“You and Your Generation”: A Commencement Address to the Class of 2010

On Sunday afternoon, while enjoying a delightful time with relatives who had traveled far to attend our church’s senior recognition service, we gathered in 92-degree heat to honor our soon-to-be graduate and to eat barbecue. As the day slowed, my sister turned to this particular soon-to-be graduate and said, “You know what’s wrong with you and your generation?”

A university professor, she went on to enumerate the many things that really push her buttons in the classroom. By imparting her wisdom, she was establishing a few ground rules so that my senior doesn’t head west and totally screw up. She prefaced each point with, “I’m not talking about you personally, but . . .”

She waxed on and on about students’ collective inability to write and, in general, communicate as adults. She also had a few strong words for parents who don’t understand that they are not really part of the classroom experience anymore and need to . . . how should I put this . . . butt out of things and let their kids grow up, how ’bout it?

I should have been taking notes, but frankly, I was bloated, overheated and exhausted and didn’t want to get out of the chair to find a pen and paper. So this morning, I asked her to list her favorite tips and email them to me. I received them in about 2.3 minutes, as she keeps such a list on hand. She personalized it slightly, sent it along, and I have cut and pasted her sage advice here, editing out the personal accounts that, while being downright funny, would also be incriminating. (Parents, you should be ashamed of yourselves.)

1. Go to class and sit in the front.
2. If you don’t understand something or have a question, go see the professor during his or her office hours (if you feel you can’t ask the question in class). It’s a good idea to email him/her ahead of time and make an appointment during office hours. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, that’s why professors are there.
3. If you have a paper, do not write it 1-2 days before it is due….especially if it is a really big paper worth a large percentage of your grade. We know when you do that. Write it a week or two ahead of time, then leave it alone. Go back to edit a few days before it is due. If you try to edit right after you write it, you’ll miss things. Use spell check.
4. Learn whatever writing style is required by your program. If you don’t open the manual, there is no way you did it correctly. Most universities have a writing center, use it! MSU has one, http://www.writingcenter.msstate.edu/
(Editor’s Note: Hey! That’s a shout-out to my daughter’s school! Nice touch!)
5. Don’t call professors at home. (Editor’s Note: This includes Christmas Eve day. Yes, it really happened.)
6. Volunteer for projects that will look good on your resumé.
7. Don’t let your parents do any of the following: (a) create your schedule, (b) be your alarm clock, (c) call your professors. Let’s repeat this one. Don’t let your parents do any of the following: (a) create your schedule, (b) be your alarm clock, (c) call your professors.
8. Read the chapters…it’s a requirement, not a suggestion.
9. Students are not entitled to an A or even a B. Professors don’t “give” you a grade, you earn a grade…whatever it may be. (Editor’s Note: She has left out the part, here, where she described numerous students who, every semester, claim they deserve a higher letter grade because they attended class regularly. She calls this “the trophy generation,” wherein kids believe they deserve a trophy for everything they do.)
10. Don’t plagiarize. Learn how to paraphrase. It doesn’t mean just changing a couple of words.
11. Don’t ask for extra credit at the end of the semester. Don’t assume that you should be given the option of extra credit even though the rest of the class doesn’t get the same opportunity.
12. Study. It’s much easier to review ALL your course notes once a week than it is to try and study everything the night before a comprehensive final.
13. College is not high school.
14. Somebody is paying a lot of money for you to be there (even if you are on scholarship), so take full advantage of the opportunity. You get out of it what you put into it.
And then, she followed up with a voice message:
15. Don’t friend your professors on Facebook. We look. And by all means, please keep your page “private.”