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By Steve Kelman

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Graduation – kids, loving parents, immigrants and so forth

Under picture-perfect fresh air and blue skies in the middle of Manhattan that reminded me how much progress we have made cleaning up our air, I attended my daughter's graduation from Columbia College last week. Some random impressions:

1) Kids these days love their parents. I am associated with one of the Harvard undergraduate houses, and I occasionally eat lunch there, plopping myself down with a random group of students and requesting permission just to listen in. I have been really surprised by how often the students' talk involves citing the views of their parents as evidence for something they should or shouldn't do – "My mom thinks that I should …" or "My dad never likes to ..." At Columbia's graduation, the president, early in the ceremony, asked for recognition of "The people who truly made this day possible, your parents or families," which occasioned a long round of applause, the longest round of applause during the entire ceremony. When I graduated from college, I am virtually certain that no such recognition was even requested, and, if it had been, it would have gotten at best prefunctory applause and conceivably even some boos.

2) Immigrants really are transforming American life. Chinese, Indian and Korean kids (especially), along with Latinos and students from the Muslim world, were very prominent among the graduating seniors. And a disproportionate number of students graduating summa cum laude were Asians or Asian immigrants. This is a real source of renewal and strength for our country. We don't just have a lot of immigrants; we have a lot of very successful immigrants.

3) Girls rule. Both the valedictorian and the salutatorian were women.

In a somewhat strange tradition, Columbia's president, rather than an outside speaker, gives the commencement address. Lee Bollinger, a first amendment scholar, spoke about the future of the press, to the frequent applause of students graduating from the Columbia Journalism School. He seemed to endorse, or at least suggest consideration of, an idea that has begun to emerge in these discussions – namely, some sort of general government subsidy for the media (something that already exists in the U.K. with the BBC and in Sweden, which provides subsidies to newspapers based on circulation).

Posted by Steve Kelman on May 26, 2009 at 12:08 PM

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Reader comments

Fri, Jun 5, 2009 Walter Chun Li

As far as China’s context is concerned, the divarication between different generations is more obvious due to Chinese fast changing society. Since the end of 1970s, China started the reform and opening, and consequently people gradually began to enjoy different careers and different living ways. Young people don’t need succeed to their parents’ jobs, and they could open their new world. At the same time, with the development of education and internet communication, young people can know the foreign news and information more easily; inevitably, their thinking has been influenced by foreign thoughts more or less. All these result in the big gap between parents’ viewpoints and their children’s in China, particularly the generation born later than 1980. It is because Chinese society changes too fast that young people’s thoughts develop quite differently than their parents’. Take marriage and family for example. Chinese parents attach more importance to stableness of marriage and family, even if the spouse is not perfect as expected. Parents could endure an unhappy marriage and family, and just wish their offspring will be good. However, as for Chinese young people, they would not accept the unsatisfactory marriage and family. They think personal happiness is more important than the so-called stable marriage. They prefer to divorce even if they have had offspring. Therefore, Chinese divorce rate is rising continuously recently. Moreover, as to the issue of pre-marital cohabitation, parents and their children also dispute severely. Of course, Chinese governments and some NGOs try to improve communication and understanding between different generations with Chinese traditional culture.

Tue, Jun 2, 2009 steve kelman

Yes, Walter -- I agree that loving parents doesn't mean obeying them blindly. I do think, though, it is healthy that kids in the US today are showing more respect for their parents' opinions than perhaps before. What about China? -- Do you think the danger is more that young people will listen to their parents too little, or listen too much?

Sat, May 30, 2009 Walter Chun Li

These days, I sometimes surprisingly think of Kelman’s this post again, and re-think further the issue on the relationship between children’s viewpoints and their parents’. As what Professor mentioned, the present US children would like to share “should” and “shouldn’t” in accordance with their parents. Nevertheless, it dose not mean that offspring just obey their parents’ thinking. As society is changeable, children’s standpoints are to some degree different from their parents’, which is normal and reasonable. Children do have different “should” and “shouldn’t”; consequently social thoughts have been being changed or pushed from one generation to another generation. Perhaps, children had gone too further in contradiction with their parents’ ideas. In this post is happily found that children come back to the balance between sameness and difference. So far as the social thinking is concerned, every society contains the compromise and contradiction at any time between different generations, particularly in the fast-developing societies where new things spring up like mushrooms. The old generations accept the newly-born things much slower than the young generations. They inevitably share different perspectives to look at the fast changing world. Last but not least, contradiction in the views doesn’t mean that children do not love their parents. However, Loving parents does not mean just obeying parents blindly.
Random thinking in a sunny afternoon
5/30/2009 3:50 PM

Wed, May 27, 2009 Walter Chun Li China

It is so interesting to read this blog, particularly as a student who will graduate soon, exactly next year. I am glad to know American kids would like to share their parents’ views gradually, such as my father or my mother says should or shouldn’t. In Chinese tradition, respect for parents is usually given with high priority. As Chinese old saying goes, filial respect has priority within all the virtues. In ancient time, some people were selected from grassroots and awarded with official position just because they were filial. Then, the filial people were often regarded to be concerned with good competency. When I am graduating next year, I would like to invite my parents to my graduation ceremony too. So far as the immigrants are concerned, I think they are really the new source for American dreams. To some extent, it is because of them that US society is so energetic and prosperous. Immigration policy perhaps also has a priority on the US political agenda.

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