Social Justice: The New American Dream

Kurt Vonnegut urges us to rethink the American dream and become a family, taking care of each other as families do, and spend more money on schools, hospitals and Ferris wheels.

| May 2016

  • Vonnegut offers The State University of New York at Albany, class of 1972, a lesson in pacifism.
    Illustration by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The expanded second edition of “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?” by Kurt Vonnegut covers wide-ranging topics and includes the nine original speeches, two new speeches and four essays.
    Cover courtesy Seven Stories Press

Best known as one of America’s most astonishing and enduring contemporary novelists, Kurt Vonnegut was also a celebrated commencement address giver. The much expanded second edition of If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? (Seven Stories Press, 2016), compiled and introduced by Dan Wakefield, includes nine of Vonnegut’s speeches, plus new graduation speeches and essays. Vonnegut delivers funny, yet serious advice and insight without being pretentious. The following speech offers a new vision for the American dream and the American people.

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The State University of New York at Albany

May 20, 1972

It is nice of you to have me here.

I have been asked to make an announcement by the management: If anyone cheated in the process of getting a degree, now is the time to confess it and leave quietly. If you don’t confess it now, you will be haunted by bogeymen for the rest of your lives—and by a very angry Santa Claus.

I never graduated from college, but I am sick about things I did in high school. I, too, was invited to confess. And did I? No. That is one of the reasons I have heebie-jeebies all the time.

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