Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Herbert Hoover on a young man's profit motive

Herbert Hoover's writings tended to be soberly in keeping with his statesmanship. Here he unbends a bit before the Class of '49 at Ohio Wesleyan University, recalling when a young man could speak about supporting a girl in a manner to which graduates are no longer accustomed.

This season you and a mighty host of 500,000 other American graduates are lining up to receive your college diplomas.

About these ads

Once upon a time, I lined up just as you are. For me, it was a day of lowered spirit. The night before we had omitted the cheerful song about ``The Owl and the Pussy Cat,'' and chanted of ``Working on the Railroad'' and that immortal college dirge about going ``Into the Cold, Cold World.'' The dynamic energy and the impelling desire to crack something up had sunk to low action levels.

I had to listen to an address made up of the standardized parts which were at that time generally sold at Commencements. It took over an hour for the speaker to put the parts together. We were warned that our diploma was an entrance ticket to jungles of temptation and hard knocks. Our speaker dwelled upon the Founding Fathers, the division of powers, upon Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill. He said we were living in a New Era in the world. He described it as Liberalism. The idea had to do with free minds and free spirits. It included the notion that America was a land of opportunity -- with the great ideal of being a land of equal opportunity. We were told that life was a race where society laid down rules of sportsmanship but ``let the best man win.'' The encouraging note in his address was emphasis upon Christian in ``The Pilgrim's Progress'' and Horatio Alger.

I confess my attention on that occasion was distracted by a sinking realization that I had to find a job -- and quick. Also, I knew a girl. Put in economic terms, I was wishing somebody with a profit motive would allow me to help him earn a profit, and thus support the girl. At the risk of seeming revolutionary and a defender of evil, I suggest that this basis of test for a job has considerable merit. It does not require qualifications either of good looks, ancestry, religion, or ability to get votes.

It is true that I had some difficulty in impressing any of the profit and loss takers with the high potentialities of my diploma. But I was without the information at that time that I was a wage slave. I was buoyed up with the notion that if I did not like any particular profit taker, I could find another one somewhere else.

And let me add, that under that particular New Era I did not find a cold, cold world. I found the profit takers a cheery and helpful lot of folks who took an enormous interest in helping youngsters get a start and get ahead in life. And you will find that is also true today. Indeed, their helpfulness has improved, for, as technology becomes more intricate, they are searching for skills, and your diploma commands more respect.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.