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This time of year is normally filled with joy and celebration, as millions of graduates across the country take their first steps into the “real world”.


Some of you reading this are the families of graduates. Some of you are graduates yourselves. Either way, you may be thinking of all the graduates of the Class of 2020 who didn’t get a ceremony, celebrated with loved ones over Zoom, and are entering into the most uncertain job market since the Great Depression.

I am, too.

So here’s my message to the Class of 2020:

I’m not going to beat around the bush. These are hard times. You’re graduating into the worst economy in 80 years, and we don’t have any idea when or how the economy will recover. Much depends on the course of this tragic pandemic.

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On the other hand, I don’t want you to despair. You have your entire lives in front of you. And you have your education, and, hopefully, resilience and fortitude.

The multiple crises we’re facing are also opportunities to remake this nation and the world, hopefully into more just societies.

In this spirit, I wanted to share with you a final class I taught a few years back, when I and my students were still all together in a classroom. In watching it, it seemed to me that the lessons still hold, especially in this pandemic and economic crisis — the importance of personal resilience, the inevitability of failure, the challenge of designing your own hoops to jump through, the new careers and forms of work you’ll encounter, the central importance of gaining wisdom about yourself.

I hope these ideas give you the courage to face the future with realism and resourcefulness, and the confidence to dedicate at least some of your life to fortifying the common good.

Robert Reich

Robert Reich