It’s always fascinating when an event in so-called “real life” illustrates a long-held philosophy or point of view. Your first reaction is one of surprised, almost startled, amazement: Did that just happen? Did that person actually say that? Do they actually mean what they just said?

We were witness to such an occurrence a short time ago at a college graduation ceremony. An adult friend of ours went back for her Masters in Education after many years on the job. She deserves all the credit in the world, as not many of us could immerse ourselves back in the classroom routine—assigned reading, homework, projects, papers, deadlines, exams—once we became accustomed to being full-time working adults, answerable, mostly, only to ourselves.

The school was Lesley “University” (nee Lesley College—I’m not sure when they moved to the higher level, nor am I sure that there exists concrete, independently-verifiable criteria for such an upgrade), a Cambridge MA-based institution whose graduation ceremony was rife with all the P.C.-feel good-self-congratulatory trappings one might expect given its geographic location.

It began with the complete, total, and one must assume, intentional ignoring of any acknowledgement of the country in which Lesley is located. Although there was an American flag on stage, unlike any of the numerous other graduations I’ve attended (both high school and college), the ceremony was not initiated with the playing of the National Anthem, the group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, or any other activity that recognized America.

Then came a seemingly endless procession of speakers and presenters. Lesley prides itself on being an “inclusive” institution, with all manner of “modified” standards and alternative programs, designed to encompass the widest possible spectrum of students. If this sounds like politically-correct double-speak, please forgive me. It would have been nearly impossible not to have been overcome by the compassionate, encompassing spirit and themes of that day.

Finally, there was an address by the Class Valedictorian. As she meandered through her mostly vapid but oh-so-serious presentation, she began her concluding paragraph with the phrase that stopped my wife and me in our tracks. She began her summation of her incredibly wonderful and productive Lesley experience with the words, “Nurtured by our Professors and challenged by our peers…..”

What? Did I hear that correctly?

I turned to my wife, and said the obvious: “Isn’t that backwards? Aren’t they supposed to be challenged by their professors and nurtured by their peers? We were stunned, but apparently we were the only ones who had that reaction. In our world—the real one, where nothing is guaranteed and you only get what you earn for yourself, and even then not always—bosses, professors, superiors, supervisors, etc. all demand things of you. There is no nicey-nice. There is no “nurturing.” We sink or swim on our own, and sometimes the tide swamps you anyway, despite your best efforts.

I was reminded of my own experience at a well-known “brand-name” university, some 30-odd years prior. On my first day in an advanced Marketing course, our professor—an elderly man with a slumped-over posture, wearing a bowtie, and bearing a decidedly stern demeanor—shuffled into the classroom and stared silently at the students, taking our full measure. His name was Alan Beckwith, and he bore a striking resemblance to John Houseman’s Professor Kingsfield character in the movie “The Paper Chase.”

After a very uncomfortable stretch of silence, he addressed the class in deliberate tones: “The first thing you all need to understand is that no one ever gets an “A” in one of my classes. Never. You’re all 20 or 21 years old—you can’t possibly know enough at this point in your lives to get an “A.” So if you’re thinking of maintaining your precious GPA in order to apply to some fancy law school after you earn your undergraduate degree, this is fair warning: transfer out now, while you still have the chance.

But if you actually want to learn something, this is the place to be.”

Not exactly “nurturing,” was he? But I took three upper-level courses from him, got a 3.0 each time, and learned a ton. There are things Professor Beckwith taught us that have stayed with me right through to this day, professional truisms that I’ve employed constantly in my various positions over the years to great effect.

It might be too easy and too much of a cliché to say that much of the blurring of individual responsibility in American culture today is caused by the kinds of overly soft, non-judgmental propositions on display at Lesley University’s recent graduation ceremony. However, sometimes the obvious is true.

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