Maybe it was the first week of June, but you couldn’t tell it in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It rained, it drizzled, a cold wind blew, and we huddled under a tent, trying to remember why we’d been so damned dumb we hadn’t packed any jackets.
Beyond the gray, leaking skies, the news was bad, with the economy spiraling out of control, the price of gas zooming, the 40th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination coming up. My husband, back from a business trip to Norway, couldn’t stop talking about the dollar’s plummet and how $18 would buy you a Big Mac meal in Bergen. Eighteen dollars! he kept saying morosely. A Big Mac meal!
But we were there, shivering and under-dressed, to celebrate our daughter’s getting a master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School. We watched her and a student body composed of people from countries around the world and listened to speakers and the dean talk about making the world a better place. So many of these new graduates will return to countries devastated by famine and civil war and unrest, eventually becoming leaders of these nations. Others, the Americans, will mostly stay here.
Making the world a better place! We listened to this, with the fresh knowledge that Obama had secured the Democratic nomination.
I won’t tell you that the skies parted and the sun began to shine and the breezes turned warm and balmy. I won’t even tell you we heard the valedictory words we were dying to hear: “This year, in a surprise move, Harvard University is paying off all its students’ educational loans in the hopes its graduates will go forward and make the world a better place without the burden of being tens of thousands of dollars in debt.” Nope. Didn’t happen, either.
But, what the hell. The graduates were fresh-faced and intelligent and energetic and committed to something better, and maybe an inspiring political change was in the works. And who knows? Maybe, this time, we’ll get a president who speaks to all of us as reasonable adults, who doesn’t promise us easy fixes or a life without sacrifices. Who might inspire us and give us purpose, for a change.
We need to do better by the Class of 2008, by the kids we’re leaving this world to. That’s why we continued to shiver and freeze our asses off in the hopes that something better might be coming our way — and theirs — in the future.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)