Yesterday, I said goodbye to an old friend. I've been living in a college town, and working close to the university, for 5 years now. Long enough to see some of the kids go through their entire college experience. Almost without exception, they have all been intelligent, kind, exceptional young people. Even the "Daddy's girls," with their Paris Hilton sunglasses, short shorts, and sense of entitlement hold a certain charm for me.

OK, fine. It could just be the shorts.

Anyway, there have been a few among them that stood out. A young woman with a social conscience and a fierce intellect who is now doing postgraduate work in the Midwest, and who I am certain will be a great writer someday. There is the young man who still comes in occasionally, and reads me stories from the Wall Street Journal and reminds me of my mortality. And, of course, the young man who graduated last week. He came in to say goodbye, and to thank me for my words of wisdom (Apparently, I'm wise. Who knew?).

It wasn't easy for any of them. While at an age when making mistakes comes with the territory, they ran the gauntlet of high school. This was even more difficult, considering we now live in an age when there is a zero-tolerance policy attached to almost every human endeavor. This gauntlet run just to get to the beginning of college.

Once they've gotten there, they're faced with a whole new set of obstacles. My friend was unlucky enough to start college during one of the worst economic and political periods in American history. An economic collapse, brought about by the greed of those at the top of the banking industry, supported by the radical right who, in my state especially, have a long history of being openly hostile to education, and educators.

The great irony is that the greatest resource America has, is having such a hard time of it. I realize that some stress is necessary, even good for you. Without exercise, muscles atrophy. The same concept can be applied to just about all human endeavor. But this isn't just stress. It's America's obsession with turning itself into a second-rate country.

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