Good morning, graduating class of 2019. Some of you may be wondering what this gathering is all about, since you rarely showed up for class. Let me explain. Every May or June, graduating students all over the nation put on their black gowns and mortar boards and sweat in the summer heat for three hours while they are given wise words of advice – onward and upward, that sort of thing. Well, if you don’t know the direction by now, it’s too late. So commencement speeches are like being handed a roadmap after you’ve arrived at your destination.
I have been selected to be this year’s commencement speaker for this university due to my brilliance, high grades when I was a student, and the fact that I just donated a new dorm. First, a little background. This is not the class of 2015 four years later. Some of your original classmates died, got expelled, flunked out or just decided a college degree is not all it’s cracked up to be, and enrolled in a community college to study arc welding, which pays better than a teacher anyway. Over the years, the semesters, the classes, you studied enough to get by, or Googled your subject matter and churned out pirated papers and your professors were too lazy to cross check.
Now let’s discuss the current scandal of parents paying bribes to get their stupid kids into a good school. Incidentally, among the so-called “elite” schools involved were Yale, Stanford, Princeton and the University of Texas at Austin. Three out of four ain’t bad. If you wonder how you got into this school, ask your curling coach, because you never curled, can’t curl and wonder why the coach is driving a brand-new Lamborghini Aventador. Some parents who were caught buying their kid’s way into college are dreadfully sorry. Mainly they are sorry that they got caught. The parents claim that their children knew nothing about the scandal, but the kids may have wondered about their SAT grade since they never took the SAT.
This brings us to the student debt. Recipients of a bachelor’s degree in 2016, the last year such figures are available, who left school with debt, owed an average of $30,301. All told, Americans owe over $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 45 million borrowers. That’s $521 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt. So college students and grads have run up a bigger IOU than what is owed to Visa, MasterCard, and all the other credit cards plus what you owe Vito “Knuckles” d’Scorpio to cover your meth bill. This doesn’t even count the 14 percent of parents who took out an average of $35,600 in federal loans to pay for their kid’s tuition. Some 11.5 percent of student loans are 90 days or more delinquent or are in default. However, there is hope for not repaying your loan. It’s a forgiveness program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness or PSLF.
Borrowers who attempted to certify for PSLF: 1,173,420
Borrowers who submitted forgiveness applications: 19,321
Borrowers who were actually granted PSLF: 55
So don’t count on having your loan cancelled. And remember, declaring bankruptcy to erase your loan is not an option. You can’t. There is another possibility. Robert Smith, a wealthy financier, announced recently during graduation ceremonies at Morehouse College that he would repay the student loans taken out by the 396 men in this year’s graduating class. (It’s a historically black, male-only school in Atlanta.) The promise may cost Smith up to $40 million. See if you can rename your school Morehouse. There is also a plan touted by a number of Democratic presidential candidates to simply make a college education free. For a nation that is $22.3 trillion (that’s 22 million million) in debt, don’t count on it.
But we might all ask, “Why is college so expensive these days?” Over the last quarter century, average tuition rose by 85 percent, adjusting for inflation, while average state spending measured on a per-student basis declined by roughly 5 percent. A college doesn’t make things like a manufacturing company. They don’t buy steel, glass, cloth, so they have no costs to purchase materials. They don’t pay property taxes or most any other tax. They get vast tax-deductible gifts. Something’s fishy.
Now let’s talk about jobs. No, let’s don’t. Actually, there are jobs out there, but only for bar bouncers, Uber drivers and running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Jobs are particularly scarce for all of you who majored in philosophy, medieval history or journalism. When job applicants come to me at the Acme Pig Rendering Factory, I first check their resume. If past work experiences include Grand Kleagle, Gestapo officer or soccer hooligan, I pass. Same for leaders of the #MeToo movement. The last thing I need is another sexual harassment suit. I’ve been fined enough. I also check to see if the applicant is a graduate of Trump University. His tuition must have been paid by Mexico in pesos.
Now we get down to a few things you should know before you go. You have been told never to play poker with a guy named Lucky, never eat at a diner called Mom’s and never buy a Rolex from a guy who’s out of breath. Never trust someone who calls you “Dude” or asks if he can borrow your Social Security number for an hour or has an unlisted DNA. We all know the expression, never take a knife to a gunfight. I recommend you avoid gunfights in the first place. Be kind to your parents or they’ll start charging you rent, even if you’re sleeping in their basement because there’s no other place to go. Finally, assuming you do find work, next year another graduating class will be sitting in these very chairs, all thinking the same thing: “When I graduate, how can I take his job?” You have a one-year head start. Get busy.
Ashby commences at firstname.lastname@example.org