Working Too Hard to Graduate

Friday was graduation at Hartford Seminary. It was a wonderful day, and, with Muslims, Jews, and other Christians, I received another degree. Now I am officially a thermometer …

After the ceremony, I drove immediately to the airport to fly to Berkeley, California, where I was to teach and preach during the weekend. On Saturday morning, traffic was heavy on the way to the church, which was unexpected until we saw young women and men in robes walking on the sidewalk toward campus. Ah, graduation from the University of California under a perfect blue sky on Mother’s Day weekend. What could be better?

Graduates are to be universally congratulated, of course, but I began to wonder about the amazing young people whose parents work one or two jobs but still can’t afford to send their kids to college. Stop in any fast-food joint in this country and you likely will see high-school- and college-age young people who are working harder than I ever did for any of my degrees. They, too, would love to be sitting in a comfortable student lounge or library studying or talking with their peers. They would love to live in a dorm, rather than with their parents and siblings, but their family depends on their income to keep a roof over everyone’s heads.

The “Protestant work ethic” has left white people in this country with the belief that, if you work hard, you can do and be anything. That is a lie. Oh, not for white people, but the cycle of poverty is inescapable for too many people of color. I worked my way through college and graduate schools and paid for every dime of my education personally, but I know the color of my skin and my middle-class family made that possible.

Minimum wage is NOT a living wage. White racism has destroyed the unions that fought for living wages. White legislatures have passed so called “right to work” legislation so their corporate donors can pay inhumane wages, closing off the middle class to an entire generation of people. A billionaire white woman is trying to privatize public education for profit and to ensure that we have a permanent underclass to mow her lawns and polish her silver …

Every day, you and I pass deserving and hard-working young people who never got the chance to wear a collegiate cap and gown. They deserve our support and appreciation, too, especially this time of year when their peers come in wearing robes they will never don.

Blessings,

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