An apology

I’m a baby boomer and, apparently, I’m supposed to apologize to this year’s graduating college seniors, according to the Wall Street Journal (Boomers to This Year’s Grads: We Are Really, Really Sorry), which is reviewing the commencement speeches of famous baby boomers.

Take Tom Friedman’s address to Grinnell College kids in Iowa last month:

The kids weren’t much buying it, the Journal article said.


But their apologies fell flat with some students, who wondered why the speakers weren’t urging their fellow boomers to do more to clean up the mess they created.

“They have been pretty selfish, but they’re still going to be around,” said Ben Slaton, a Butler graduate. “They need to do their part.”

That’s a quote that makes me sad I won’t be around in 40 years to hear Ben’s apology.

  • Paul

    //That’s a quote that makes me sad I won’t be around in 40 years to hear Ben’s apology.

    Typical comment of your generation.

  • Bob Collins

    True that. Like so many other generations, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

  • John Peschken

    The recent birth of my first grandchild made me reflect on the topic of parents and children in a way that seems relevant here. I have things I should probably apologize for, to my son. There were things my dad maybe should have apologized for. No doubt my son will feel the same. All each generation can do is learn from the good and bad examples provided by the previous generation and do the best they can.

  • Bob Collins

    Nice, John. I think somewhere around age 50, you start to understand and appreciate the effort and view the results in a different context than when you’re, say, 21.

  • kennedy

    This talk sounds as if the “Baby Boomers” are being expected to coast out their remaining years. I would expect differently.

    Learning, or at least the growth of knowledge, hasn’t stopped. Neither is it a one way street with the younger always learning from the older. Sure, some people will want to sip iced tea on a beach expecting to be comforted by social security checks. Others may use the personal time available in retirement to do be activists, volunteers, mentors.

    Past mistakes should be acknowledged, but are not an excuse to stop participating in todays world.

  • sm

    Each college class is intoned to clean up the current mess. From the Vietnam War to Watergate to the War on Drugs to the War on the Environment to a War on Oil. Now we have a recession and a War on the Economy. And so it goes. It’s always something.

  • Paul

    Some generations “best” are better than others. I think my generation dropped the ball completely, and yeah, I’m sorry. We were supposed to be the generation that learned the lessons of Viet Nam and Watergate amongst other things and yet here we are, in Iraq, here we are in Panama, Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Kuwait. Here we are after 8 years of corruption and abuse of executive power that makes Nixon look like a boy scout.

    We abdicated our responsibilities as citizens while we focused on personal fulfillment. We turned the economy over the greediest and most corrupt people in our country while we went shopping and focused on our kids resumes. We watched one corporate crime wave after another inflate and burst bubbles dragging us into one recession after another; and we learned absolutely nothing from any of these experiences. Now our kids are graduating into an economy shambles, albeit with impressive resumes. Not only do they inherit a war, they inherit two wars. We’re the only generation in US history to pass two wars on to the next generation.

    And now we stand in front of them at graduation and say what exactly? The excuses offered are so banal they’re beneath contempt. The only advice we can offer with a straight face is: “don’t do what did”.

    Thom Friedman is a putz.

  • Paul

    Sorry, “Don’t do what we did”.

  • tiredboomer

    Like presidents, the challenges of the times define any generation.

    Our parents and grandparents lived through the depression. Our parents faced fascism on the battlefield. They meet these challenges, not out of choice but out of necessity.

    If you’re 55 years old, you probably spent 53 of those years confident that you would never live to see an African-American president no matter how intelligent or talented. Boomers in America faced the challenge of social injustice. In the past 40 years a complete change in how we perceive society has occurred. And to all those in their 20’s and 30’s who seem to take Barack Obama’s election for granted … you’re welcome.

    To our parents and grandparents, the internal combustion engine was a great labor saving tool. To our parents and us it was a tool for a more comfortable life. Only in the last decade or two have we become aware of the treat this tool poses. This generation, the young as well as the old, will face and conquer the looming energy and environmental crisis.

    Oh, and as in all generations, this generation will suffer from its share of greed.

  • Paul

    Tireboomer,

    It took us 40 years to nominate and elect a black president, and your bragging about it? Most of our generation were dragged into voting for Obama kicking and screaming, you remember the primary battles, that was our generation.

    We’ve known about smog and over reliance on oil since 1973, and what did we do about it? We quadrupled our oil consumption and built and bought giant gas guzzling cars. 30 years after the first oil crises our roads are filled with cars that get worse mileage that they did in 1980. So yeah, we became aware of the problem, and made it worse for 30 years.

    We did accomplish something, we built a lot of stadiums for billionaires. The only welfare program in the state that’s not facing cuts is Carl Polad’s.

  • reallytiredboomer

    Hey Paul you’re entitled to your opinions, but given your attack I feel the need to respond.

    // It took us 40 years to nominate and elect a black president, and you’re bragging about it? // (contraction added to correct an assumed error)

    Yes! We’re talking about social change here. Did you expect, a social awakening in the late 60’s followed with an African-American president in ‘72? This happened at social light speed. I stand by my statement “If you’re 55 years old, you probably spent 53 of those years [believing] you would never live to see an African-American president no matter how intelligent or talented.” (NOTE: In the quote, I substituted the word “believing” for “confident that” to better communicate the meaning of my original statement).

    // …you remember the primary battles, that was our generation. //

    That was the political process. Iowa gave Obama his initial victory (not exactly a hotbed of youth or radical politics).

    // We’ve known about smog and over reliance on oil since 1973, and what did we do about it? //

    Yes I remember smog. Those brownish-orange clouds that used to settle in over cities like LA. Smog itself was largely cleaned up with pollution controls that STARTED going on cars in 1968 and into gasoline in the 70’s (I believe, at the time, many blamed the first gas shortage in 1973 on the required engine modifications and fuel additives). The real crises we face is the rapidly increasing demand for energy via globalization AND the greenhouse effect (CO2). Neither of those hit the radar screen until the 90’s.

    // …and bought giant gas guzzling cars. 30 years after the first oil crises our roads are filled with cars that get worse mileage that they did in 1980. So yeah, we became aware of the problem, and made it worse for 30 years. //

    Don’t blame the boomers for that one. Take a look around, many of the drivers in those gas guzzlers are young. Personally all my vehicles have exceeded 29 MPG since 1982 (27 years).

    // We did accomplish something, we built a lot of stadiums for billionaires. //

    Okay, I’ll give you that one. But you seem to have missed my statement: “… and as in all generations, this generation will suffer from its share of greed.”

  • Paul

    tiredboomer,

    //Yes! We’re talking about social change here. Did you expect, a social awakening in the late 60’s followed with an African-American president in ‘72? This happened at social light speed. I stand by my statement “If you’re 55 years old, you probably spent 53 of those years [believing]

    light speed? Maybe not 72, but I voted for Jesse Jackson in 88. Our generation’s inability to imagine faster social change simply indicates a lack of imagination.

    As far as smog and what not goes, sorry dude but Nixon signed the bill that created the EPA, and Nixon wasn’t a boomer, and the clean air act wasn’t a product of boomers either. That was 1970 by the way, when you were what? 18? Our generation, we elected Ronald Reagan who gutted the EPA and weakened the Clean Air Act. We elected him twice in fact and then followed up with Bush, that’s what we did for the environment. By the way, global warming didn’t show up on a radar, screen, our generation caused it, and then ignored it as long as possible.

    While the rest of world reacted to the energy crises of the early 70s by building bullet trains, taxing gas, and strengthening public transit, what did our generation do? We invented urban sprawl.

  • tiredboomer

    Let’s see Nixon (1913) is not a boomer but Reagan (1911) is a boomer? (Boomers voted in both elections as they did in to Obama election).

    The rapid growth of the suburbs began on the heels of WWII, the Eisenhower Administration created the Interstate Highway System … yet the boomers are responsible for urban sprawl?

    Boomers don’t wear black hats and other generations don’t wear white hats. Paul, if you only look for what’s wrong, that’s what you will find.

  • Paul

    Who said Reagan was a boomer? If you want to claim boomers elected both Nixon and Reagan be my guest, it just illustrates my point all the more.

    You can only find what your looking for if it’s there to be found my friend.

  • Paul

    Oh, and about sprawl- Post war construction was about suburbs, most are now the inner ring suburbs. Our generation, we took it to whole new level. Despite everything we knew about how stupid and inefficient sprawl is, it took the worst real estate crises since the great depression to stop us.

  • Mike R

    GENEVA, SWITZERLAND:

    Scientists at the International Astronomical Union announced today that they have developed a new theory regarding the gravitational distortion at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

    New calculations indicate a black hole 10,000 light years across would not be large enough to account for the observed gravitational effects. They now believe the collective ego of the group of aging Americans known as “baby boomers” is the most massive object in the universe.

    According to Heinz Spilhaus, the project’s lead researcher, “It couldn’t just be a black hole. It had to be something absolutely enormous, just huge. So big it distorts time and space; the very fabric of reality. So what else could it be, really?”