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Observations Commencement to Armageddon Houston Making a commencement speech these days is not a routine matter. So many I regard as the best people are disheartened, so much has gone and is going awry. What does one say to the young coming on? But when the students graduating last month from the College of Humanities and the Arts at the University of Houston had me invited to address their convocation, I knew I had to do it. The evening before I took a long swim in the world’s largest hotel swimming pool, at the Shamrock. All by myself in that expanse of water forming, vaguely, a shield, the lushly planted tropical grounds around moving slowly by, I turtled along, somehow escaping there the skyscraper-violated problems of being in Houston. In the morning the cap with the flapping tassel, the gown, the regalia concealing so many nice and other guys, we processioned into the auditorium, and there they were, like the hundreds of other graduating classes all over the country and the world, bunched blackgowned at the front, with their parents, spouses, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and grandchildren filling the place behind them, backing them up as they commenced to begin. For my part, after distributing congratulations I said: I am honored to have been invited to speak upon this commencement. I am moved, by the occasion and the times, to speak my heart. I could speak to you about the greatness of our country, and it is real and manifold. But others often sing to you our nation’s just praises. I could speak to you about our achievements in prosperity, abundance, and the exploration of space, the universe. But these happy topics fill the media and pour forth from the podia, and I have little more to say of them. We Americans have so much to be proud of, perhaps we spend a bit too much time doing it. The occasion of your commencement is so serious, I would rather discuss with you now the sharpest shoals that underlie your course the truth of the human crisis that my generation, and the antecedents of my generation, now present you. I have lived more than twice as long as most of you have. But whereas I have perhaps only another quarter of a century to live, most of you have half a century. In the few minutes I have with you, I want to talk to you about ethical responsibilities mine, yours that are implicit in these particular times. I bring, I know, heavy news. Ethically, you are not free. There is no way you can be free. In Elysian times people could romp and play, work as they needed, and be free of guilt, bear no burden for the woes of their fellows. In our times this is not true. As Albert Camus perceived and said, we are each and all responsible not only for what we do, but for what we do not do. The Germans of World War II taught us this forever. Our species, our kind, is in such a manifold crisis, no one can be excused. If, 20 years from now, the whole world blows up, you will not be able to say from the grave to the few survivors, “I had a right to a good time.” Oh, you can say it; but you will not be excused. THE PHASES of this crisis, I shall just name, really. There is the pollution of our bodies. So many of us are dying of cancer, the intuition spreads that getting away from small, personal units of living, making everything into bigger and bigger sys Austin In a commencement address at UTAustin, former Texas Gov. Allan Shivers dealt with the way things are more reassuringly than the Observer editor did in the accompanying speech. Shivers said, in part: “Things really aren’t as bad as most of you think they are and the world is probably no closer to falling apart than it’s ever been. “Yes, we live in tense and troubled times in a world of hunger, disease, nuclear proliferation, racial strife and economic uncertainty; in a world that is tems, especially food distribution systems, we have polluted the environment at the molecular level we are polluting our bodies and our home around, the very earth. There is the pollution of the American democracy, which may be a terminal pollution, by special-interest money. Tens of millions to elect presidents, millions to elect senators, hundreds of thousands to elect mayors, even. We have lost all control of these polluting flows and clearly the democracy is in danger. It was 1974 when we really lost the control. That was when the Congress authorized corporations to collect political money and channel it to their chosen politicians. This was a fundamental change from a government by consent of the people governed toward a government by consent of the corporations and other organized economic interests. experiment could not fail? Why couldn’t it? Athens ended, and it ended under challenge from the military, the very Spartan state that is now ascendant in our own country. Third, we have a specific crisis at hand now in our country because of the quantitative failure of the New Deal and its successors. Only one new family out of nine can afford a home. Fourth, we live in the time of the arrival of the world’s poor at the status of never more than an hour away from a nuclear holocaust. “But if you really want to talk about tense and troubled times, think of the world inhabited by the early settlers of this great land of ours. It was a good year if the Indians didn’t raid you and burn down your house or the wife didn’t die in childbirth or one of the children didn’t die of scarlet fever or smallpox or a drouth or plague of locusts didn’t wipe out your crop. “It was a good year if you just broke even and yet those hardy settlers and pioneers carved out the freest, strongest nation mankind has ever known.” Another Perspective THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21