The View From My Wheelchair – 2020 Commencement Speech

(applause, applause, applause...)

Thanks for the kind welcome. Administration, any Freshmen, Sophomores or Juniors who may be in attendance; Parents, Grandparents, Great Grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, lunch director Miss Shari, head custodian Mr. Zabrusky and the honored graduating class of 2020, it is you we celebrate on this glorious day.

As I prepared to make this address, I Googled 2020 commencement speeches. From what I’ve gathered, you heard from Former President Obama, Oprah, Malala, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Tim Cook, David Chang (never heard of him? He’s a Chef), Chelsea Handler, Dr. Fouchi, John Legend, Aquafina (?), Hillary… all liberals.

I wondered, “Where are the conservative commencement speakers?” When researched, I discovered Condi Rice canceled her appearance at Rutgers due to student protests in 2014, and ever since, conservative speakers don’t give commencement speeches. No judgment here, simply an observation. BTW, there were no old white guys in a wheelchair, like me either.

All the commencement addresses I found were impressive, informative, and encouraging, with all speakers discussing topics I believe will be important to the class of 2020, eventually. But none of the speeches I researched covered things this old white guy in a wheelchair thinks they should have covered. In a matter of weeks, the lives of graduating seniors have ended up in one GIGANTIC snow globe that just got “shaken like a polaroid picture” and as of now, the snow has just begun to settle. What will happen next? Will there be a resurgence of the virus? How long will the economy struggle? For high school grads, what will college look like? For college graduates, will I find a job? For many, how’s my single mom going to get through this? Will my dad find work again? As the class of 2020 ponders questions no other American graduating class has ever addressed, the most important day to begin finding answers is just a few months away, November 3, 2020.

Many of the speakers discussed Election Day, but the one speech that got right to the point was the one by soccer superstar, Meagan Rupino. She said, “We’re separated in ways we’ve never experienced and facing a world that will never be the same. So, I’m not going to ask you to come together. I’m going to ask you to demand better together. For many of you, this year will be the first time you’ve cast a ballot. I urge you not to miss the importance of who makes the decisions in times of crisis and in times of triumph. From your local mayor to your governor, your senator, to the President of the United States. Who is leading, matters.”

Add this pandemic to the ills of America today – low wages, massive job loss, loss of healthcare, racial division, the divide over opening America, or spreading the virus. Let’s take it further; no action on the dream act known as DACA, no Equal Rights Amendment, unequal immigrating policies leaving children at risk and, and as Meagan mentioned, the political divide that has damaged friendships and families.

Even if you took away the pandemic, America is in this situation today because of the voting habits of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. You are eating off the plate served to you by your elders.

The current population of our country is 328 million Americans. According to Census information in 2019, 67% of Americans are registered to vote and of that block, 53% of those people actually vote. Of total votes, the participation of young people is a fraction of that. In 2016, 70.9 percent of voters over 65 got in line and cast a vote but only 46.1 percent of young people 18-29 voted. There’s a slow increase in voting that reaches a peak at age 50, then tapers off.

18-year-olds got the right to vote in1972 and have always been under-represented at the polls. Older voters tend to protect their interests with little concern for future generations. For example, in 1972 we commemorated the first Earth Day, bringing light to the damage being done to our planet since the industrial revolution. In the minds of the class of 2020, do you think your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents have done enough to protect this big blue marble, spinning in the vastness of the universe? Have they done what is necessary to protect you from Climate Change? Young people don’t vote.

In the minds of the class of 2020, is it acceptable that the debate over a reasonable living wage has raged in Congress for years and some American’s still make as low at $7.25 an hour? Research shows with a combined yearly income between 55-75 thousand dollars, the very bottom end of wage earners, it takes approximately 24 months to save enough for one month of expenses. A US Senator’s yearly salary is 174 thousand dollars and magically, they acquire millions of dollars during their time served. Where did all that money come from? Is it time to get money out of politics and lobbyists out of Washington, D.C.? Because of the voting habits of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, it’s a part of the plate you’re eating from. Young people don’t vote.

Is it acceptable in the minds of the class of 2020 that those we elect to represent us in Government have the gold-level ACA health insurance policy and get subsidies covering 72% of the costs? A majority of Americans receive healthcare through their job but when they lose that job because of a...let’s say...a Pandemic, citizens lose healthcare and get little or no assistance from the elected officials. Is it ok that America ranks 27th in the world for healthcare and education? Young people don’t vote.

In the minds of the class of 2020, is it acceptable that children must attend school to eat breakfast and lunch? I was somewhat aware of this, but it became more evident as facts about what was happening to citizens during our Stay at Home orders began showing up on TV news. Your elders are responsible because young people don’t vote.

Is it ok in the minds of the class of 2020 and your LGBTQ friends, that the Equal Rights Amendment, granting equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex, first proposed in 1923 then brought back to the forefront for major debate in the ’60s and has still not been passed? Young people don’t vote.

Is it acceptable in the minds of the class of 2020 that election days are not holidays to give everyone the opportunity to cast a ballot in our Democracy? Was it logical in 2014, for the Supreme Court to effectively invalidate the civil rights act of 1965 by allowing states to change election laws without the approval of the federal government? There’s a constant drumbeat of an attack on voting rights and your elders have allowed that to happen. Young people don’t vote.

Is it ok in the minds of 2020 grads that the NRA stands in the way of background checks that a large majority of Americans, and NRA members, agree with? This is your life, left to you by your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Young people don’t vote.

It is acceptable to the class of 2020 that the Federal Communications Commission once had a rule requiring equal time for contrasting points of view known as, The Fairness Doctrine, and it was rescinded in 1987 by President Reagan? Example: the lie about former President Obama’s birthplace, “the President is from Kenya”, for 10 minutes would have been countered by truth, “here’s the President’s birth certificate” for the same amount of time, equal time to address both sides. Once the Doctrine was rescinded, it eliminated the contrasting point of view and all that’s reported is: “The President’s from Kenya”, a lie without debate. Truth is truth, truth is subjective is lawyer-speak. Young people don’t vote.

Is it fair that 504 Billion dollars of the 2.2 trillion dollar coronavirus, taxpayer stimulus bill went to Corporations and local government loans and your family got a one-time check? Did 1,200 dollars pay the rent or mortgage and get enough food on your table to survive since America went on lockdown March 14. Is it fair some in congress, who’ve not lost a paycheck, have refused to discuss putting any more of YOUR money back in YOUR pocket? Young people don’t vote.

Is it ok in the minds of 2020 grads that a black man can’t jog, or sit in his car, or buy a TV without the threat of being killed by a white policeman? This is the life left to you by your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Young people don’t vote.

Your elders vote in a system based in old economics that has stifled the middle class. They call it the “trickle-down theory”. For many in Washington, D.C., it’s more important to protect corporations by not taxing them in hopes corporations will, in turn, invest and create jobs, an economic and political path America began in 1985. The middle class has struggled to survive ever since. The middle class is where most of you will end up. And, who knows where you may end up after this current Pandemic.

I implore the class of 2020 to start a massive, new revolution based on voting and take control of the FUTURE of America. It’s imperative you talk to your friends and let them know why you have become a voting activist and get them excited about voting. Enough of not having a say in the America of YOUR FUTURE. ENOUGH of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents controlling your world, they have long ago lost focus on you. YOU are America’s future and YOU need to get involved and cure the ills of America.

Commit to getting registered to vote, commit to getting in line, or getting that ballot in the mailbox. If those in political office are not doing things that will help fix these many ills of America as Oprah said in her commencement address: “SEND THEM PACKING!”

If they don’t care about climate change, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they don’t set a national minimum wage, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they don’t want money out of politics, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they don’t fund public education, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they don’t provide affordable healthcare to citizens, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they don’t pass the Equal Rights Amendment, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they block citizens from voting or manipulate voting laws, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they don’t stand up to the NRA, SEND THEM PACKING!

If they don’t return to a new form of The Fairness Doctrine to eliminate lies without debate, SEND THEM PACKING!

You do that by voting. The only way 18-24-year-old people will think it’s important to vote is if they see how important it is to other 18-24-year-olds. You have to get fire in your belly to grow a fire in theirs. Talk to your friends, make sure those in your circle get registered. Get mad as hell about what you’ve learned, the America of today was given to you by your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents because young people don’t vote.

The numbers alone tell the tale. A MINORITY of Americans put our country on its current path in 2016. If a MAJORITY of young Americans decide to forge a new path for our country, they can if they register and get out to vote. And there are plenty of your parents, grandparents and great grandparents, anxiously watching, who believe in you. Your elders may have messed this up, but a lot of us would be happy as hell if you could finally fix the things a majority of US citizens have wanted for decades. The days of politicians getting mired in the game of politics needs to stop. America’s political system is the best on the planet until those in elected office lose focus and care more about their personal well-being, their political party, and manipulating the system for their benefit.

I believe the graduating class of 2020 is the smartest group of Americans in history. With that phone in your hand, you have the ability to find truth faster than any previous generation but take this from an old radio broadcaster. You need to know; Who? What? When? Where? Why and how to find the truth. Answers to those questions will help you decipher the details of most any issue. Don’t let others lead your opinions,

Don’t be discouraged about America today. It’s been a rough couple of months, but we have the smartest people from all over the world calling America home. The world is looking for us to lead the way after this CURRENT pandemic. The ability to plan for America’s future is in the hand of the 18 plus voter. Please get registered and get three friends registered. The numbers speak for themselves.

All the commencement speakers I’ve spoken of wish the same as I. We’d all be proud of something we’ve said or written made you be a better American. I hope something I’ve written will call you to action.

To the class of 2020 from a graduate of the class of 1973, I’d really appreciate it if you and your friends would vote and do the things I’ve written about, it’ll make us a better America.

Young people... It’s time to vote!

Until next time, wash your hands, and wear a mask.


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K.R. Curry, the Author

PO Box 464 Fort Collins CO 80522

2019 K.R.Curry, the Author

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