Many of you readers will graduate college this week. More accurately, many of you have grandchildren who will graduate this week, and I ask you to pass this on to them with your cold, brittle, liver-spotted hands. For even though no university, junior college or turtle/pirate/parrot-drawing-by-mail school responded to my offer to deliver a commencement speech, I have advice far more useful than applying sunscreen or respecting your elders.
Just hours after Bill Cosby's words have finally dripped to a pointless conclusion, you will receive your first call from your alma mater. She will not want to chat. She will want money. Do not give it to her. She will use guilt, intimidation, peer pressure, sentimentality and sex. Actually, if she uses sex, you probably didn't go to such a great school and don't have a lot of spare cash anyway.
Trust me; your school doesn't need more money. It can invest in South Africa now. Universities are some of the richest institutions in the world. My school, Stanford, has an endowment larger than Milton Berle's. It has purchased ridiculously expensive pointy metal art installations and put them in the middle of a playing space for faculty children just because it had to use up some art fund. It needs money like I need a call from Milton Berle about that endowment joke.
I loved my four years at Stanford. I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world, except, of course, a degree from Harvard, Yale or Princeton. But Stanford already got a whole wad of Stein money. Outside of organized crime, it's not traditional to charge someone for a service and then ask for more later. Gillette doesn't send me letters saying, "We know you cherish your Mach3 razor, so we thought you'd like to support our company by sending us even more money. Here's a list of your friends who have already sent checks, conveniently listed in approximate order of their salary. Think big."
And universities have no shame. I have friends still paying off their student loans who get hit on for money. Now I'm no Jane Bryant Quinn, but giving money away to people you still owe seems to make very little economic sense. Even the Merchant of Venice didn't have the cojones to ask for that.
It's fine that rich people like to give money to organizations that make them look good. They want a powerful alma mater, a nice opera house, a buoyant Venice and a tidy stretch of road for Bette Midler to drive on. They just shouldn't be able, morally or tax-wise, to call it charity. If you need to donate to education, give to a scholarship fund. But it's too easy to give money to pretty things instead of the leprous maniac down the street who's always singing The Thong Song. I don't live in a great neighborhood.
So when those giggly freshmen call you asking for money for their endowment fund, think of the 40% of the Indian population that is illiterate or the 25% of sub-Saharan Africans who have HIV. That's where my money will go--right after I buy a satellite dish to watch the Stanford basketball team. They're so damn good.