The Epidemic of Entitlement: response to Tulane students’ petition
Recently, when reading the news online, I stumbled upon a headline that stunned me. The story reported that a small group of Tulane students who were dissatisfied with the university’s announcement that the very accomplished journalist and Today Show host Hoda Kotb had been selected to deliver the Class of 2016’s commencement address. The students declared that they “deserved better,” and created a petition to push for a change.
It’s important to note that those who had signed it represent only a small fraction of the university, and Tulane stands behind its choice (and rightfully so.)
The following letter reflects my personal opinion of the situation, and addresses only those students and parents who signed the petition. –Kim Bergeron
Dear Tulane “Elitist” Petitioners,
Congratulations. You’re about to graduate from one of the most respected universities in the United States. You’re following in the footsteps of many proud alumni who hold their alma mater in the highest esteem. They’re the doctors, the lawyers, the professors and scientists, management professionals, and so many more accomplished individuals with BAs and MBAs and PhDs, who have gone on to do great things in the world.
Congratulations. The 262 students (and parents) who signed the petition have just humiliated the many who have previously walked across that stage and graciously accepted their diplomas. You have embarrassed your professors, your university, your city and your state as the rest of the world reads the headlines and the content of your petition as they circulate around the web.
You say, “We all feel cheated. Given the amount of money, work, and passion we have poured into our educational careers at Tulane, we think we deserve better than this. Hoda Kotb is hardly an inspirational figure, and despite the fact that she has had a successful career in journalism, we feel that we deserve a more recognizable and more prominent figure than her. Commencement speeches are supposed to inspire students before they are thrown into the real world. Hoda Kotb spends her time sipping wine on talk shows, and discussing which dog breed is trendiest in 2016. There’s hardly anything inspirational about that. This is an embarrassment not only to the entire class of 2016, but also to the school as a whole.”
Let’s take a closer look at whom you feel is not good enough for your commencement address.
If you read The Hayride story, you’ll find an impressive list of accomplishments by a respected journalist who was relentless in her pursuit of a career as a reporter, and earned her way up through the ranks for a job well done. You’ll find a career which includes coverage of the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the South East Asian tsunami and the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for Dateline NBC. And you’ll find what reporter John Binder lists as among Ms. Kotb’s most celebrated coups, scoring the first American press interview in 11 years of the internationally recognized, and then-imprisoned, leader of Burma Aung, San Suu Kyi.
You’ll find brief mention of her survival of breast cancer, a battle which was neither brief nor easy. It’s a triumph that inspired women throughout the United States.
If you delve a little deeper, you’ll learn that she is also a New York Times bestselling author, whose latest book, Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us The Way shares stories of people who “find their life’s purpose in unexpected ways…with examples of perseverance, self-reflection, and new attitudes on life…a motivating and inspirational look at exploring and finding the right path for your personal journey.”
It’s the stuff of which commencement addresses are made. And that book was preceded by two equally acclaimed books, Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee and Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives.
Yet you “deserve better.”
Now, let’s consider here what you really deserve: a reality check that probably should have been cashed years ago. One which, when redeemed, will provide reasonable returns on that for which you have worked. And the harsh reality that you are not the suns around which the world revolves.
You’re not entitled to anything other than the degree you have pursued.
And (based on your behavior, this part is now questionable) the prestige that comes with it. But with your self-importance, you’ve just tarnished the latter of the two for all of the other soon-to-be-grads who are mortified by your behavior.
So here’s a bit of unsolicited advice for you, as you prepare to enter the real world with real jobs and real bosses who sign real paychecks: you would be wise to quickly and quietly remove your names from the petition, if possible, before would-be employers stumble upon it. (Because in this day and age, the internet is one of the first things prospective employers search when assessing potential employees’ character.) You’ll be hard pressed to find any employer who will be willing to take on high maintenance, entitled, self serving and (as your Tulane predecessors have labeled you in the petition responses,) ungrateful, spoiled brats. And those were some of the nicer comments.
To the parents who have joined the petition, also claiming your children deserve more, it appears you’ve demonstrated to the world where your child gets his or her sense of entitlement. Job well done. Perhaps you should spare yourselves the agony of the commencement address, stay at home with your new grads and rent the movie that epitomizes your collective actions: “Mean Girls.”
Because let’s face it, Hoda Kotb deserves better than you.
To the remainder of the Tulane students, the university and the fine city of New Orleans, hang in there. This, too, shall pass. And to the rest of the world, we Louisianans ask that you not judge the whole of us based on the actions of a few misguided individuals. We are better than that.
Lastly, to Ms. Kotb, thank you for all that you have done to inspire the masses, and for being such an amazing ambassador for the city of New Orleans. You are loved by many who have utmost respect for all of your accomplishments and for the joy you bring to so many.
And just know this: should you desire to “spend time sipping wine” following your commencement address, say the word, and I’ll round up the nice girls (and guys.) We’re buying.
See the epic response of Hoda’s former WWL colleague, Karen Swensen, shared via WWL-TV here.
The original story was reported by John Binder of The Hayride, and can be read here.
As of the afternoon of 3/17, the petition and comments (originally posted here) have been altered, with content replaced with single alpha characters. (It’s possible that the site prohibits complete removal, so the original poster circumvented that with content replacement.) Here’s a screen shot with a sampler of the comments before deletion.