It was 60 years ago come May, that I was honored to be chosen to give the traditional valedictory address at Coronado High School (CHS). I’d like to give a second one, albeit much shorter.
My theme in June 1960 was the rhetorical one of “Could we do as well as our parents had?”
Like most CHS’ers, Class of ‘60, my parents had successfully navigated the Great Depression and World War II, and I sketched out their accomplishments long before they were to be popularly and widely described as the Greatest Generation. Naturally, with the confidence and optimism of any 17 year old, I answered my own question in the affirmative: “We can.”
When I set out to write this update I wanted to immunize it against dismissal, as a trite generational lament or even rant, which typically contain the words “When I was… but…” Accordingly, I expressly declined to consider several topical issues. Had I not, these might have included the polarization/politicization of the country, the disappointing passivity or even complicity of both CHS 2020’ers and my contemporary CHS 1960’ers in intolerance of others’ points of view, and the deterioration of my 1960 native California’s image from the envy to the laughingstock of the nation.
But back to the 1960 question of “Can we do as well as our parents did?”
Until recently I might have concluded, with the benefit of hindsight, that I had been wrong and that my generation had failed to build on the legacy of our parents, but that conclusion was definitely wrong,
We did succeed.
With a difference.
Our legacy is equality of opportunity, a less topical, more philosophical and more permanent legacy. I can still remember taking city buses in Virginia to my segregated school, and never questioning that the back of the bus was where the Negroes, as they were called then, dociley and legally sat.
No more. There is now equality, perhaps imperfect yet, in matters of race, employment, and the armed services. This is the legacy of Coronado High School, Class of 1960: equality of opportunity.
But as I look to the future, if I were to give a second valedictory address, I foresee a grave problem, rooted in a dangerous misinterpretation. Equality, equality of opportunity, is not the same as equality of outcome. We may, and increasingly do, all begin life as equals, but with the passage of time the outcomes are unequal.
Equality of outcome is neither feasible nor desirable. That it is not feasible is obvious. That it is not desirable is less obvious, but invariably attempts to legislate or mandate equality of outcome end up stifling the progress of both individual and society, and may result in producing equality, but in the form of a lowest common denominator.
So my advice in my second valedictory, this time to CHS ’20, is to think seriously about what equality means, and to continue to perfect the ideal of equality of opportunity, but don’t be misled by a seductive illusion of equality of outcome.
author’s note: Harvard College, Harvard Business School, publisher of the Guatemala Post, and host of Good Morning Guatemala on the ABC International Radio affiliate in Guatemala City.
Emisoras Unidas (ABC Radio affiliate), Canal Antigua TV, VOA (radio and TV),American Thinker, BBC4,El Periodico, Cincinnati Enquirer, Guatemala Post, Atlantic, Washington Times,St. Petersburg Times (comments). Golden Circle award and numerous local recognitions.