One thing graduation ceremonies give you is a chance to take a breath, look back, and then look forward. In the past week I've seen two contrasting views of today's graduates. On the one hand, the recent report I read by an investment-banker type notes how the "cream of the crop" from elite universities is clamoring to get into hedge funds, the quickest way to make a buck (or 20 million) and be set for life. The problem for the rest of us is that these hedge funds speculate on things like food and oil, things we non-hedge-fund-investing types actually have to pay for when prices go up, things that are of inelastic demand. So from that one account you'd think the next generation is ready to make a million on our backs and retire to some peaceful place out of the way. (Of course, it won't work out like that for most of them even if they get what they want!)
But on the other hand, there's the fact that this generation is more than ever focused on the idea of service, and the idea of not charging too much for that service. Think Teach for America (I know graduated students doing that now). And the encouraging twist I see on this service-oriented generation is the degree to which they know that technology can be pressed into their projects to serve people.
This afternoon I saw an honors project presentation about creating a web site for low-income families to serve as an investment hub. Then another one about using simple generator technology to provide electricity to Africans "off the grid" in Rwanda. And I'm reminded of the "open source" textbook movement that is writing textbooks for free online, of Larry Wall's Perl project and how he provides that to everyone free of charge, of CarbonCart.com (another SPU project), and of Wikipedia (which I like more every day), and of Lostpedia (well, now we're getting off topic) ...
The point is that these graduates have a choice, one that seems to be increasingly stark: who are you gonna live for? You can't serve both God and mammon. As food and oil get more expensive, the choice becomes harder, but also there's this new technology that we've brought you up with, and it's good for more than just text messaging.
The potential of the internet in this case is just beginning to be tapped. The importance of keeping these networks up and running is increasing, because they can be used, for free, for some pretty good things, if we give these student projects a chance to bear fruit. The graduates are choosing as we speak which way they'll go, and after sitting through presentations and speeches today, I have more hope than I did this morning that enough will choose the right to keep us all above water.