MONEY College

Are You Ahead of Your Peers on College Savings?

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Happy 529 Day! Sarina Finkelstein/bravo1954—Getty Images

A new report shows that 529 accounts are growing, but that investors are shying away from stocks.

Americans have a record high college savings level of more than $230 billion, and are adding to that at a rate of about $700 million more every month in 2014, some recent studies have show.

That sounds like a lot of money—until you consider that there are more than 82 million Americans under the age of 20. So overall Americans have saved just $2,800 per youngster, and the average amount set aside annually per kid divides out to just a hair over 100 bucks.

But in a special report issued on May 29 in honor of 529 Day, Morningstar pointed out some hopeful news. At least Americans are paying less to have their college savings invested in 529 plans. The fund companies with the lowest fees now have the biggest market share, Morningstar says.

Plus, competition is forcing most 529 managers to cut their fees, says Kathryn Spica, a senior analyst at Morningstar and author of the report.

Related: College Savings Cheat Sheet: It’s As Easy As 5-2-9

That’s good for investors, since research shows that low-fee funds tend to outperform more expensive competitors over the long term.

“There are a lot of positive signs,” Spica says.

However, Morningstar also found that investors have lately been opting for more conservative investment options. And that’s not a positive for everyone.

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SOURCE: Morningstar

Protecting assets when your children are older—or when stock valuations are high, as they are today—is sensible.

But parents saving for younger children, who thus have many years to ride out stock market corrections, would do better to invest aggressively. As the Morningstar report showed, the average 529 conservative allocation tallied an annual return of 8.4% a year from 2008 through 2013. More aggressive funds have risen faster—about 14.4% a year over the same period.

Related: How much do you need to save for college?

Additionally, in a 2012 paper, Vanguard found that over 18 years, investors who start out aggressively and smoothly taper down their equity holdings are likely to end up with significantly higher college savings. (See especially Fig. 4.) Investing $1,000 a year aggressively early on results in an average balance of $40,000 after 18 years, versus $27,000 for conservative investors.

James Dahle, a Salt Lake City area emergency physician who has started 15 529s—for his three children and 12 nieces and nephews—says that one of the main advantages of 529 plans is that investments can grow tax-free. So investors who put their 529 savings in, say, bonds, which won’t grow very much, lose out on one of the biggest advantages. “The more you earn, the more you save on taxes,” says Dahle, who blogs about his investments at WhiteCoatInvestor.com.

MONEY Kids and Money

4 Ways to Influence How New Grads Handle Money

Take heart. When high school and college seniors come into some cash, they mostly do good things with it.

When her son recently turned 18, Lisa Kirchenbauer and her husband had him sign papers to take control of an account for minors they had long ago set up as a college fund–which had grown to about $60,000.

“What if I ran out and bought a car with it?” he asked.

It was mostly a joke question, but still heart-stopping for Kirchenbauer, a financial planner in Arlington, Va., because she knew he could do exactly that if he wanted to—and it would be perfectly legal.

There is a jarring lack of parental control when high school and college seniors come into some cash upon graduation – anything from a $100 check from Grandma to multi-million dollar inheritances.

“You have to go for less of a parenting, finger-pointing mode and talk to them as an adult – that’s what they are now,” says Rachel Cruze, who co-authored the book Smart Money, Smart Kids with her father, financial guru Dave Ramsey.

Mostly, good things happen with the money. According to college loan purveyor Sallie Mae, about 25% of parents say that at least some high school graduation gift money ended up paying for college expenses. A 2010 poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 25% of recipients put money into savings, 10% used it for travel and entertainment, and 5% put the money toward a car.

While it’s still a little scary for parents to lose control, here are four strategies to make sure that new young adults handle graduation gifts responsibly.

Test With Small Amounts

Many parents try to teach their kids healthy spending habits with allowances, which pays off when they hit young adulthood. Jill Totenberg, mom to a high school senior in New York City, started her daughter off with $5 a week in third grade, then upped it to $80 a month in high school.

Now, the 18-year-old has a bank account with a debit card and is learning to manage a credit card. Mom is pretty confident that any graduation gifts will go straight in the bank. “She totally gets it,” says Totenberg.

John Boland, a financial planner in Montpelier, Vermont, also has tested his 17-year-old near-graduate with a debit and credit card, necessary because the teen is on a travel sports team. “He knows that if he does anything foolish, he’ll lose it,” Boland says.

This past winter, when Boland’s parents asked their grandson what he wanted as a Christmas present, he said cash for college in the fall.

Roll Over Into a Trust

When higher dollar amounts are involved, young adults face pressure from families and financial advisers to lock the money up, especially for minor accounts that turn over to the child at age 18 or 21, depending on state law.

“I’ve had some of my clients say: ‘Can we not give him the money?'” says Kevin Ruth, head of private wealth planning for Fidelity. “The reality is, you can’t.”

Matt Brady, senior director of planning at Wells Fargo Private Bank, says he has seen parents convince children to roll their newly acquired funds into a family partnership or trust, so they can continue to oversee it.

“The worst thing is to just have them take control of money they can’t manage,” Brady says.

For money in trusts, it all comes down to the provisions for distribution. Many of them set limits preventing the youngsters from getting anything unless they complete tasks, like graduate.

Fidelity’s Ruth says the trend is to keep the rules as restrictive as possible.

Incentives are crucial, he says. “You can get money if you start a business or get a masters degree. A lot of times, they can only get out as much money as they earn. They have to show up with a W-2,” Ruth says. “And if you’re not doing the right thing, you will get zero money.”

The cost of setting up a trust with an estate attorney will depend on how much money is invested, and ongoing professional money management will cost an annual fee of around 1% of assets.

Allow a Little Splurge

For Tim Noonan, managing director of capital market insights for Russell Investments in Seattle, the key to his financial parenting was instilling a sense of mystery about the power of money. The message: “Money is a magical tool, but it will turn against you if you do the wrong thing.”

While he doesn’t expect his daughter to get a lot of cash gifts when she graduates this month, he was willing to shell out for a celebratory present. She asked for a party for all her friends, which he was happy to do because she already has a job lined up.

Totenberg, the New York City mom, is expecting her daughter to be responsible but also allowing for fun. “She may buy some shoes or some ridiculous gift pack from Sephora that is all pretty packaging—something she knows I’ll never buy for her,” she says.

Direct Gifts From Family Members

One stealth way to maintain a little control over funds is to direct family members toward appropriate non-cash gifts. This is what Kirchenbauer, whose son has the $60,000 college fund, is doing when family members ask what her son would like for graduation. To one she suggested a set of luggage, to another a suit, and to a third a laptop.

“My mom is just writing a check,” she said, which she hopes her son will put in a savings account.

 

 

TIME Education

‘Money Is Only Actually Fun If You’re Already Happy’

A nail polish exec wows new grads at Scripps College with her commencement speech and surprises at least one skeptical parent.

For weeks, all I could think was, “Come on, this is the best you can do? What about Sonia Sotomayor? Can’t someone check and see if she’s available?”

My pique had been brought on when Scripps College announced who would be speaking at my daughter’s commencement: Nonie Creme, an alumna of the school who in 2006 started a nail polish company.

It’s not that I have anything against polishing one’s nails; I wouldn’t dream of missing my bi-weekly mani-pedi. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder whether having someone in the beauty business send the graduates of an all-women’s college out into the world might send the wrong message.

What’s more, at a time when other commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients have been coming under heavy fire for their politics—International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde at Smith, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers, rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis—Creme seemed a pathetically apolitical choice.

Boy, was I wrong.

Creme rocked the house, giving one of the best commencement addresses I’ve ever heard or read. She introduced herself as “the first straight C student to give this speech,” and then related how she went on to found a multi-million dollar company, Butter London. Along the way, she dispensed the kind of practical advice that any parent would be thrilled to have their child take in.

First, Creme counseled, don’t let your major define you. Instead, she told the graduates, an area of study is really just “a jumping-off point.” So, when people stick up their noses at a liberal arts degree and ask, “What will you do with that?” there is only one reply: “Anything I want, actually.”

Of course, it took a bit of distance for Creme to understand this. She explained how she first felt like a failure when, as a fine arts major, she realized that she “sucked” at painting. It was only in retrospect that Creme figured out how her education had given her the tools she needed to create a successful beauty brand.

“If you told me that I’d end up using my Scripps fine arts degree to build beauty enterprises I would have laughed at you,” she noted. “I’d have said ‘I’m not an MBA, I don’t know anything about business.’” But what Creme did know was how to mix paint—the perfect skill for someone who would one day develop her own line of nail polish.

The second lesson Creme imparted was about humility and hard work. She recalled what it felt like when she first started out, standing outside a London subway station every morning with “business cards, a basket full of nail supplies, and a pay-as-you-go mobile phone” trying to drum up work as a manicurist. While she made decent money providing desk-side service to patrons in the financial district, she was ashamed at her occupation.

“I was well-educated, upper-middle-class, and here I was doing this job that required little more than a grade-school education and was what people ended up doing when they had no other options,” she said. “This time in my life taught me . . . we are not better than anyone else.”

Creme also reminded the undergraduates gathered under the shade of the school’s beautiful 75-year-old elm trees that their education was a gift and “not a free pass in life.”

“You are still going to have to work really bloody hard to succeed,” she said, and success won’t come overnight. Creme herself went from booking jobs on the street to becoming a sought-after manicurist for runway shows to being quoted in glamor magazines about the latest trends. Fashion editors coveted her custom-mixed nail polishes, and industry insiders implored her to start her own company.

But that was still just the beginning, really. At 34—more than a decade after graduating—Creme temporarily moved away from her husband and comfortable London home and joined her business partner in a “rat-infested basement” in Seattle, where, with the $50,000 in start-up money they cobbled together, Butter London was born.

“I have never worked that hard in my life,” Creme said, “and I pray that I’ll never have to again.”

As Creme gets ready to launch her second company—extending her signature custom colors to a new line of cosmetics and hair products—her third lesson for the young women sitting expectantly in front of her was for them to follow their passion.

“I learned to listen to myself, and trust that if I was happy, the only measure of success that mattered was my own,” she told them. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Money is only actually fun if you’re already happy.”

Later, she added: “Don’t be scared about what comes next, don’t worry about whether you’ll set the world on fire. Just stop, think, as you’ve been educated to do—and then try some stuff that looks fun and interesting. If you’re truly unhappy, try something else, and so on and so on, until . . . you know.”

Oh, and there was one more lesson. But this one was for me. I had prejudged Nonie Creme, deciding in advance that she was not feminist or intellectual enough for the occasion. That was wrong, and I told my daughter so. For me, it was an important reminder that some of the richest learning is to be found in unexpected places.

Creme later mentioned to me that she had heard how her selection had “caused some eyes to roll.” Yet she did not bow out. Instead, she took on the challenge, stood before hundreds of people, and with warmth and wit shared her amazing story of hard work, grit and smarts. And, fittingly, she nailed it.

 

 

TIME

Haverford’s Commencement Speaker Explains Why He Called Out ‘Arrogant and Immature’ Student Protesters

Commencement Speech Rebuke
William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, delivers his commencement speech to the graduates of Haverford College on Sunday. He called the controversy over a planned speaker sad and troubling. Clem Murray—AP

Following controversy over the school’s graduation speaker, former Princeton University President William Bowen says social media has unfairly amplified the voices of a few

Correction appended, May 20, 2014

On Sunday, former Princeton University president William Bowen used his graduation address at Haverford College to admonish a group of students whose criticism of the planned commencement speaker, former University of California, Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau, led him to bow out of the event.

Nearly 50 students and three faculty members wrote a letter faulting Birgeneau for his handling of a 2011 student-led Occupy Cal protest, in which police used batons against students. The letter laid out nine demands for Birgeneau before he could be given an honorary degree, including a pledge that the former chancellor lead efforts to retrain campus police, support reparations for affected Occupy protesters and issue a public apology. Birgeneau spurned the offer — and the ceremony. He was one of a handful of prominent voices who withdrew from commencement events this year following pressure from students. Earlier outcries led former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to bow out as a Rutgers graduation speaker, International Monetary Fund head Christine LaGarde to withdraw from the Smith College commencement and Brandeis University to rescind an honorary degree offer to writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bowen, who replaced Birgeneau as Haverford’s speaker, used his remarks to criticize what he called a sad and troubling series of events. In a conversation with TIME, Bowen talks about the reasons he directly responded to the controversy and why he believes social media has amplified the voices of a few in ways he hasn’t seen since his first position as a Princeton professor in the 1950s.

Why did you feel compelled to speak out about the students’ demands of Birgeneau?

Various people in the academic community got in touch with me and felt I really had to say something, that it wasn’t satisfactory from the standpoint of the broader academic community for there to be silence about this. I thought, alright, I can. I got in touch with [Haverford College] President [Daniel] Weiss and volunteered. It wasn’t his idea.

You think the students’ approach was immature and arrogant.

I do.

Why?

I think that when you disagree with someone as some of the students and a few faculty also did with Birgeneau’s handling of unrest at Berkeley, you communicate your displeasure, but in a civil way. You don’t issue a peremptory set of “demands” that really read like an indictment delivered by a self-selected jury absent counter-argument. You just don’t do that. And if your interest is in debating these issues, that’s not the way to encourage a debate. The way to encourage a debate is to say, we have these concerns, these disagreements. Please come and discuss them with us. That would’ve been I think the right way to proceed.

But do you put some of this on Birgeneau as well? Do you think he shouldn’t have backed down?

I do. I do. I thought he should’ve been there. Some years ago at Princeton, George Shultz [who was appointed to several positions in the Nixon administration] was given an honorary degree in the midst of the Vietnam War. But our honorary degree process at Princeton concluded that Shultz had been a quintessential public servant through good days and bad even though many of us disagreed with this particular set of political decisions about Vietnam. And so we went ahead. And the students mostly behaved very well. The protesters stood and turned their backs when Shultz got his degree to show their disapproval. And he just sat there calmly and we went on with it. He had the courage to realize that there were going to be protests and he just accepted it.

You’ve been in higher education since the 1950s and seen protests against the Vietnam War and South African apartheid and now movements like Occupy. How has student activism changed over the years?

I would say this is mild compared to that. It’s in part a product of social media. The fact that it’s so easy today for a few voices to get a lot of bandwidth. And that didn’t used to be the case, so that’s changed. The rules of the road say protesters have the right to their views and to express them in non-disruptive ways and there should then be a discussion and debate. The rules of the road haven’t changed, but this suggests that sometimes sharp voices raised inappropriately and really stridently can discourage that kind of conversation.

It’s curious this year that several high-profile speakers declined to speak at graduation ceremonies. What do you think is going on?

Contagion, and I think that’s one of the reasons so many people urged me to say something. I hope that my talk may have in some way helped to arrest contagion. I think it perhaps has.

You received a standing ovation from some family and guests. What did you expect the response to be?

I had no idea, and it wasn’t actually anything on my mind. I’ve learned over many years through thick and thin to say what I believe is the right thing to say and then let the aftermath be the aftermath. I am fortunately now on a wonderful perch in the sky in that I have no responsibility for running a particular institution, so I have a wonderful luxury of saying what I believe.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the scale of the standing ovation.

TIME Sex

Why the ‘Hookup Generation’ Does Not Need to Learn How to Date

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Hero Images—Getty Images/Hero Images

Exploring the absurdity of a Boston College class that requires students to go on dates

Over the weekend, an article in the Boston Globe highlighted a class at Boston College in which the professor offers extra credit to students if they ask another student out on a date. (The date is mandatory in another one of her seminars.) The rules: it must be a legitimate love interest; they must ask in person (not via text, etc.); the love interest cannot know the date is an assignment; and the date must last 45-90 minutes and cannot involve any sexual contact. Professor Kerry Cronin argues that the exercise will teach college kids ingrained in the so-called “hookup culture” the lost art of dating.

Well I’m here to inform that professor that we 20-somethings don’t need help, thank you very much.

It’s true that dating has probably become less common on college campuses since the 1950s—or at least the Archie Comics version of dating where a boy and a girl sip a milkshake together through two straws. Instead college kids have discovered an even better way to find a significant other.

Professor Cronin has three main concerns: college students no longer have the confidence to ask one another out on dates; so they instead resort to group hangouts, which erodes the dating culture; and hookups have supplanted relationships. Let me address these concerns one at a time.

I’ll concede that the number of college kids asking each other out on dates in person has probably dropped significantly. According to a 2012 Pew Research poll, 63 percent of teens exchange texts with their friends every day while only 35 percent engage in face-to-face socializations with those same people outside of school. Asking a boy or girl out via text is safer: the rejection feels less harsh on the screen than in person.

And yet despite the fact that we like to hide behind our screens, we don’t need Cronin’s lesson in “doing something courageous,” as one of Cronin’s student describes it. Two college kids may be much more likely to kiss before one of them ever asks the other out on an actual date. But I would argue that it takes as much—if not more—courage to lean in for the first kiss as it does to ask someone out.

So how do we find these mates to kiss? Often, college kids meet potential love interests hanging out in groups with friends and friends of friends or at parties. I often felt in college that hanging out with someone I liked among friends allowed me to get to know him better than going on a 45-minute date alone ever would. Spending time in extracurriculars or in social situations with a crush always made me feel much more comfortable with him once we actually began to go out and a lot more sure that I wanted to be with him.

Parties, too, felt like a much more natural venue to talk to someone than a crowded Starbucks. Dates can feel contrived, whereas a party feels organic. Being surrounded by people, music and activities gives you something to talk about. Your friends could always help you or bail you out of a bad situation. And of course there’s the liquid courage.

Before addressing the myth of hookup culture, I’ll point out that dating isn’t dead on college campuses. An informal survey of my female friends found that each had been asked out at least one time by a boy she’d never even kissed before in college. These dates, if accepted, succeeded or failed at about the same rate as a random-hookup-turned-consistent-relationship did.

But what is really at the root of my informal dating tutorial is the mass panic about college hookup culture, which is way overblown. Every few months there seems to be a renewed hysteria surrounding Generation X’s inability to commit to relationships, and every few months I endeavor to debunk this hookup culture myth. So here are the facts again:

1. “Hookup culture” refers from anything from kissing to sex

So don’t freak out, parents. “Random hookups” can often mean just kissing.

2. A very small percentage of college kids are participating in this hookup culture

Less than 15 percent of students “hookup”—meaning anything ranging from kissing to sex—more than twice per year.

3. That very small percentage is about the same as the number of people who were having uncommitted sex in past generations

A 1967 study by the Institute for Sex Research found that 68% of college men and 44% of college women reported having engaged in premarital sex—around the same as the 64 percent reported at my alma mater. Another study that compared a survey on sexual practices from 1988-1996 to one from 2004-2012 found that respondents from the later survey did not report more sexual partners, more frequent sex or more partners during the past year than respondents from the earlier survey.

4. Most college students are actually looking for a committed relationship

A study by the American Psychological Association in February 2013 found that 63 percent of college men and 83 percent of college women would prefer a traditional relationship to uncommitted sex.

5. Most students having sex are doing so with one partner consistently

The same study that compared sex practices in the 80s and 90s to now found that 78.2% of those recently surveyed reported that their sexual partner was either a spouse or a significant other, compared to 84.5% in the survey from the ’80s and ’90s.

So yes, some college students will make out with one another at a party—maybe more—and then arrange to see one another again via text message. But many of those encounters result in dates and, eventually, relationships. As Richard McAnulty, an associate professor in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte points out in the Globe article, the majority of college students actually practice “serial monogamy,” in which they have consecutive, exclusive relationships. The dates are still there, they just come later—after college kids are sure they’re interested in someone else and that there’s a possibility of a longer commitment. After all, aren’t dates more enjoyable when they’re with someone you already know that you like and are sexually attracted to?

And besides, there will be plenty of time post-graduation for awkward first dates arranged by mutual friends or a myriad of dating apps (OKCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder and Hinge to name a few). They’ll sit and explain their jobs and their majors and what they like to do for fun. It will be always uncomfortable, sometimes pleasant, occasionally horrifying. But they’ll learn how to date in the way Cronin wants.

For now, college students, enjoy four years of choosing your boyfriends and girlfriends from a group of like-minded peers whose full name and interests you’ll already know by your first date.

TIME Education

Salaries of Public-University Presidents Rocket Despite Spiraling Student Debt

The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University Denis Jr. Tangney—Getty Images

A new report by the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies finds that salaries for the top 25 highest-paid public-research university presidents have swelled in recent years despite the growth of student debt and various faculty disenfranchisement issues

While salaries for the top 25 highest-paid public-research-university presidents have swelled in recent years, student debt and faculty-disenfranchisement problems have grown, says a new study.

A report released on Sunday by the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) looked at how that inflated pay correlated to dwindling funds allocated to student scholarships, and a trend toward more part-time adjunct-professor positions, which do not require benefits and other forms of compensation.

From 2009 to 2012, executive compensation at public research universities increased 14% to an average of $544,554, while compensation for presidents at the highest-paying universities increased by a third, to $974,006.

“Administrative spending outstripped scholarship spending by more than 2 to 1 at state schools with the highest-paid presidents,” the report says.

Marjorie Wood, one of the study’s co-authors, told the New York Times that “high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending. But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”

The five top-paying schools listed by the IPS were Ohio State University, Penn State, the University of Minnesota, University of Michigan and University of Washington, crunching data from Chronicle of Higher Education, American Federation of Teachers and Institute for College Access and Success.

The Chronicle’s recently released stats showed that presidents’ base pay, already in the six-figure range, was often only a small part of their “total compensation” for the year.

“From FY 2006 to FY 2012, spending on nonacademic administration rose 65%, much faster than spending on scholarships in the top 25,” says the report.

In 2012, student debt across the country hit $1.2 trillion. But student debt at the colleges with highest-earning presidents grew at a 13% faster rate than the national average, partly because higher executive pay translates into less funding available for scholarships, the study says.

Lack of benefits, shaky job security and inadequate pay for adjunct professors have also become an issue of growing concern, illustrated starkly in separate papers by Service Employees International Union, The Coalition on the Academic Workforce and U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, cited in the IPS report.

The study was particularly critical of university boards of trustees, which determine how to pay the president.

TIME Education

Commencement Speaker: Students ‘Immature’ for Protesting Another Speaker

William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, delivers his second commencement speech to the 2014 graduates of Haverford College, on May 18, 2014.
William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, delivers his second commencement speech to the 2014 graduates of Haverford College, on May 18, 2014. Clem Murray—The Philadelphia Inquirer/AP

William Bowen, a former Princeton University president, criticized Haverford College students who rallied against a former University of California, Berkeley chancellor as their speaker because of his management of a 2011 protest that led to police force

A commencement speaker at Pennsylvania’s Haverford College called college students “immature” and “arrogant” Sunday for protesting a different speaker who ultimately withdrew.

Former Princeton University President William Bowen criticized those who protested Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, the Associated Press reports.

Three professors and 40 students had campaigned against Birgeneau’s invitation to speak, citing his management of a 2011 campus clash between police and Occupy movement protestors that resulted in police using force against the demonstrators. The Haverford students and professors wanted Birgeneau to apologize, support victim payments and explain what he learned about the events in a letter to the student body.

Birgeneau refused to do so and canceled his Haverford visit, joining a group of college commencement speakers who backed out of speaking engagements this spring following protests from students.

“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of ‘demands,'” Bowen said, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counterarguments.”

Bowen’s speech was met with a standing ovation.

[AP]

TIME College

12 Inspiring Graduation Speeches by Amazing Women

Inspirational moments from Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres and more.

Let’s face it, ten years out, many of us can’t remember who spoke at our graduation ceremonies, never mind repeat what they said. But every year there’s a small batch of gems–speeches by a celebrity or CEO that fuse together equal parts wit, wisdom, nostalgia and meaning. Many of these are by women. In fact, the commencement address has become a particularly powerful platform for accomplished women. In the coming weeks, big names like Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes and General Motors CEO Mary Barra will ascend podiums around the country. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite graduation moments from the last few years.

Julie Andrews at University of Colorado Boulder (2013): “Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world you want to live in”

Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University (2009): “Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”

Toni Morrison at Rutgers University (2011): “But I tell you, no generation, least of all mine, has a complete grip on the imagination and goals of subsequent generations; not if you refuse to let it be so. You don’t have to accept media or even scholarly labels for yourself: Generation A, B, C, X, Y, [majority], minority, red state, blue state; this social past or that one. Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class—upper, middle, and lower—in order to serve a wider world.”

Barbara Kingsolver at Duke University (2008): “If somebody says ‘your money or your life,’ you could say, ‘life,’ and mean it. You’ll see things collapse in your time, the big houses, the empires of glass. The new green things that sprout up through the wreck — those will be yours.”

Michelle Obama at Eastern Kentucky University (2013): “If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do — we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose. “

Amy Poehler at Harvard Class Day (2011): “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”

J.K. Rowling at Harvard (2008): “So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Sheryl Sandberg at Barnard College (2011): “We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap. But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you.”

Maria Shriver at USC Annenberg School of Communication (2012): “I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember — the power of the pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.”

Meryl Streep at Barnard (2010): “This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There’s only change, and resistance to it and then more change.”

Kerry Washington at George Washington University (2013): ““When you leave here today and commence the next stage of your life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected, and copy the status quo. Or you can look at all that you have accomplished today and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.”

Oprah Winfrey at Spelman University (2012): “You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go,”

 

TIME Education

Why I Wish My Guidance Counselors Would Stop Talking So Much About College

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Pamela Moore—Getty Images/Vetta

If we follow traditions embraced by white people because we think it is the only way to be successful or important in the world, that can lead not only to financial debt, but ongoing stress to be someone we are not.

In New Orleans schools there are a lot of teachers, principals and guidance counselors who encourage students to go to college so much and so vigorously that it seems as though they are forcing the idea of college on them. I have advisors who encourage me to attend a four-year university at both my high school, Lake Area New Tech, and at Bard Early College, a college preparation program I attend part time. Their encouragement is understandable since both my high school and Bard’s program were designed to prepare me for a four-year college. But I wish the advisors took seriously some of my other dreams. For instance, one day I tried talking to one of the advisors about moving to California to pursue modeling and he told me that I should just put that dream on hold and go to college. If I can only talk with my college advisor about college — or else risk being seen as lacking in ambition — then I would prefer a life coach or someone else who accepts me and accepts alternative definitions of ambition and success. It’s unfair to force the same notion of success on all children; everyone is different and college is not always the right or best choice.

Not only does my high school tell us that we all should go to college, they force seniors to apply to college and tell us that we cannot graduate unless we have been accepted some place (although they would have no legal right to withhold a diploma). I do not even know what I want to major in if I go to college: My high school has taken us on many field trips to colleges, but we have never visited workplaces that would give us a sense of potential jobs and career paths.

Moreover, there are not enough vocational classes or career courses available for students in New Orleans. Most schools have math, English, science, social studies, art and physical education classes. Yet I have rarely seen home economics, mechanics, wood shop or any other classes that could provide different options to students with diverse skills.

As much as they differed in their outlooks on education, both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois understood that not all black people need to follow the same path. Their thoughts are still important today in New Orleans, where most of the public school children are African-American. “Du Bois stressed the importance of a college-educated talented tenth [“talented tenth” referred to the most elite African Americans of his day], while Washington emphasized vocational training for the black masses,” wrote historian Raymond Wolters. Both Washington and Du Bois were correct. Not everyone should go to college, but not everyone should go to vocational schools. The two men emphasized the importance of personal responsibility and self-improvement. But an individual has to know her own strengths and find her own path in order to take charge of her own destiny. This is a particularly important lesson for African-Americans because we come from a different culture and background than white Americans. If we follow traditions embraced by white people because we think it is the only way to be successful or important in the world, that can lead not only to financial debt (in the case of college), but ongoing stress to be someone we are not.

Writing in 1978, Diane Ravitch noted that many historians viewed schools as “instruments of coercive assimilation, designed to strip minority children of their culture and to mold them to serve the needs of capitalism.” While Ravitch disagreed with the idea that schools were instruments of “assimilation” at that time, I personally agree with that argument. Many schools, for instance, tell children to go to college and try to teach children rules that will make them disciplined enough to work at corporations that support the country’s capitalistic economy.

Schools should not prioritize college above other goals such as vocational training. The guidance counselor in every school should speak to all students and understand what each student wants to do in his or her life. Many New Orleans students graduate from high school unsatisfied with their options because the only routes are college or minimum wage jobs. Guidance counselors need to tell students other routes exist, and high schools need to help prepare them by offering a broader range of courses. They also need to employ enough counselors so that they can take the time to get to know students as individuals.

The false teaching that college brings automatic success causes a lot of youth to go to college with unrealistic ideas of getting a job in the field they majored in and making a lot of money. In reality, many people graduate with debt (an average of more than $35,000 for the class of 2013) and have to get jobs unrelated to their majors because the economy is so bad. There is not a guarantee that students will get a job if they attend vocational schools either. But we must not overemphasize one route: There are many different things that a person can do with their life and be happy.

Thea Tucker, 17, is a senior at New Orleans’ Lake Area high school. This essay is part of a collaboration between The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that covers education, and Bard’s Early College in New Orleans.

TIME Sexual Assault

Dartmouth’s President on Sexual Assault Prevention and Bystander Intervention

Philip J. Hanlon is the president of Dartmouth College

Prevention efforts are critical if we are to rid our campuses of the extreme behaviors that harm our community and distract us from the passion of our pursuits. Through the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative (DBI), we are instructing individual students, faculty and staff to intervene at the first signs of trouble. To date, more than 800 Dartmouth students have been trained in DBI and we expect up to 1,400 more to be trained by the end of the month.

But, we are doing even more to mobilize the community as a whole. We have established earlier this year the Center for Community Action and Prevention to serve as the hub for all our violence prevention programs, including DBI. At the same time, we are collaborating with leaders in Washington DC and across higher education to identify the best prevention strategies, resources, and support to enhance the engagement of our communities in the all-important task of stopping extreme behavior before it happens.

And in July, Dartmouth will host a Summit on Sexual Assault that will bring together higher ed leaders and experts from around the country to strengthen prevention efforts and better promote the safety and well-being of our students.

(You can read more opinions in TIME’s special report: Ending Campus Sexual Assault and get the full story in this week’s cover article by Eliza Gray: The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses.)

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