Cliff Maloney: Why do college commencement speeches ignore economic reality? There's reason for optimism

This month, American academia is ringing in graduation ceremonies with commencement speeches of all sorts. Some are inspirational, others educational. Unfortunately, too many are nothing but negative.

At Goucher College, television host Bill Nye recently warned graduating students that “our world is warming,” and urged them to “make big changes in the way you and your kids live.” Hillary Clinton brought more doom and gloom to Hunter College in New York City, where she claimed that democracy “feels far from secure” and “we are witnessing an assault on the rule of law.” In her words: “This is no time for apathy.”

Nor is it a time for partisan sensationalism and misleading rhetoric. Rather than bombarding college graduates with utter pessimism, commencement speakers would be better served to highlight the reasons for them to be optimistic – because there are quite many.


Our next wave of college graduates is entering a booming economy that can provide limitless opportunity for those who seek it. Compared to where we were during the depths of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy should only be celebrated, and our college graduates encouraged to make the most of their lives. Because they can.

In 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent. Among Americans aged 16 to 24, the unemployment rate surpassed 19 percent, as our nation’s youngest job-seekers struggled to find work and any semblance of financial security.

One decade later, that financial security is far less elusive. The U.S. unemployment rate has dipped below 4 percent, while youth unemployment has dropped from nearly 20 percent to just over 8 percent. Earlier this year, job openings hit a record high of 7.3 million, suggesting it is easier than ever for young Americans to find work.

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, job creators are, well, creating jobs and welcoming millions of Millennials into their ranks. In fact, Millennials already represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. By next year, the Millennial generation is expected to make up half of our workforce, filling out every level of the corporate ladder.

In today’s economy, young Americans are more encouraged than ever to become job creators themselves. Popular shows like “Shark Tank” invite entrepreneurs to take control of their lives and create something. They inspire Americans of all ages to become visionaries, not privilege-point debaters consumed by victimhood.

After all, the U.S. economy is driven by entrepreneurship. America is home to more than 30 million small businesses, which employ nearly 60 million workers – half of the private-sector workforce. Much of that free-market innovation is driven by recent graduates, who have grown up with shows like “Shark Tank” and apply its lessons to their everyday lives. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 54 percent of Millennials either want to start a business or have already started one. Indeed, more than a quarter of Millennials are self-employed, forgoing a traditional work schedule to build something from scratch.

Our newest wave of college graduates can now follow in those footsteps, in a much friendlier business environment. We are currently experiencing the greatest times in American history, but it’s on us – all of us – to keep it that way.


This can only happen by working hard, following your dreams, and building something that the consumer values. This is the beauty of the American experiment: Consumers drive the free marketplace, not government dictators who "know best."

Here’s a commencement day message we can all support: We’re living in one of the most peaceful and prosperous times in the history of the world. Stay optimistic and hungry for opportunity.