Most commencement speakers lied to the graduating classes of 1987. They said that America wants them to become outstanding doctors, lawyers, nurses, dentists, scientists and college professors.
No one wants any such thing. What we really desire is that they become dishwashers, busboys, waitresses, taxi drivers, chambermaids and gardeners.
Ebell Bowl, who gave the commencement speech at Luna Lake Tech, was one of thousands of speakers who admitted he made a mistake. We discussed it at a sidewalk cafe on Cape Cod, waiting for coffee that never came.
"I should have told the class of 1987 that their generation owes it to our generation to provide the basic services that we all need, and I don't mean genetic engineering."
"It doesn't count for a kid to climb the ladder of success if no one can get a cup of coffee," I said.
Ebell looked at me. "My message to the graduating class should have been that none of us can enjoy the American dream if young people will not carry away our dirty dishes."
"I remember when I finished college how much I looked forward to being a bellhop at a resort hotel. I couldn't have cared less about upward mobility."
Ebell was agitated. "I know what I should have said in my speech. This country will be great only when there are enough students to pump its gas."
"You could have made the pitch that since there are no illegal aliens available, everyone with an engineering diploma should pick grapes."
Ebell said: "Higher education means bupkus if there is no one to clean our hotel rooms. I don't want astronomers to tell me the world started with a bang. I want someone to tell me why my air conditioner won't work. We don't need investment bankers and marketing geniuses -- not as long as the country is crying for lifeguards and people who can make Dunkin' Donuts."
"Why is there such a shortage of help?" I asked Ebell.
"Nobody will work," he replied. "The trouble is that kids don't think $6 per hour is a fair wage for jerking sodas, particularly since they can get twice as much from their parents if they promise not to drive 65 miles an hour."
Ebell said: "Attitudes have changed in recent years. At one time the greatest thrill in the world for a young person was to wait on his friends in a restaurant. Now the greatest thrill for a college student is to be waited on. What's happened is that both the haves and have-nots want somebody else to do their menial work. The haves want it all, the have-nots want it now. But nobody wants to work for tips."
"If everyone is sitting down, who will mix our malted milkshakes?"
"I made a lot of mistakes at the graduation. I shouldn't have told the students their job is to stop a nuclear holocaust. I should have assured them that the most they can do for peace is clean fish so people won't go hungry in Southampton."
"Even if you had said it, they wouldn't have listened."
Ebell said: "No one has a right to demand a piece of the American pie if he or she hasn't paid his dues at Wendy's. This country can't survive if its graduates insist on bypassing the summer jobs that go begging."
"If you had mentioned that in your talk, you would have received a standing ovation -- from the parents."
"Not only that," said Ebell. "We might also have gotten a cup of coffee."