Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich tells Bates graduates to seek balance

Don’t let anxiety about income prevent you from seeking a balance in life, former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich told Bates College graduates, their families and friends during Commencement exercises Monday, June 4. Thirty years ago, he said, an annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute showed that 40 percent of college students listed “being very well off financially” as a “very important” reason for a college degree. Last fall, when the most recent  survey was taken, he said that more than 75 percent of college students said that it was very important.”Much of your concern about earning enough money I think has to do with the widening gap between rich and poor in this country,” Reich said. “The reward for landing on the prosperous side of the gap is far greater than it was 30 years ago. And so is the penalty for landing on the poorer side.

However, Reich told the graduates that he has “comforting news” for them: “College graduates almost always land on the winning side of the gap. Not because they have a piece of parchment, but because they have the right tools to gain new knowledge.”

In their lives after college, Reich told graduates to pursue wisdom and self-knowledge. He told them to seek out careers that provide satisfaction, and to strike a balance between work, home life and friendships. “Too many rich people these days don’t much like what they do during most of their waking hours,” he said. “Find a job that makes you happy.” Ideally, one that also makes the world a slightly better place to live in. Find a mate whom you love and will love you back. Have children who will grow into decent men and women, because you are a decent and loving parent. And make time for good friends.”

A crowd of more than 2,500 attended the ceremonies in front of historic Coram Library on the College’s main quadrangle. Bates President Donald W. Harward conferred bachelor’s degrees on 434 graduates.

Joining Reich, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, as honorary degree recipients were former Hannaford Bros. CEO and retiring Bates Trustee chair James L. Moody Jr. ’53 (Doctor of Humane Letters); noted scholar, civil rights champion and former chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Mary Frances Berry (Doctor of Laws); Pulitzer Prize-winning essayist and novelist Anna Quindlen (Doctor of Humane Letters); and science educator and president of the National Academy of Sciences Bruce M. Alberts (Doctor of Science).

Read more on Commencement 2001.

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