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To the 2007 graduates: The tasks awaiting you

May 15, 2007

As graduates of local high schools and colleges march across the stage to pick up their diplomas, they will hear a variety of inspirational speeches.

They will be told that they are the hope of the future and that they have - or soon will have - the responsibility of leading the nation in the right direction.

We hope they take these words seriously, because, as unfair as it is, there are plenty of messes others have left behind for them to clean up.

In part that is because of the attitude that too many Americans hold, the gist of which is "I want what I want today and we'll worry about tomorrow later."

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How else can we explain how the nation went from a budget surplus into deep debt in just a few years? Tax cuts at the national level were doled out with little thought for how they would be funded.

The U.S. Congress is now considering additional cuts in 2012 based on a surplus that doesn't yet exist and without any real solutions to the problems of Social Security or Medicare.

The latter program, by the way, is more expensive than it should be because the legislation that created the Part D prescription program prohibited negotiations with the drug companies, as other federal agencies do.

At the state level, we have seen the Maryland General Assembly pass an aid-to-education bill with no funding mechanism. In 1999, lawmakers deregulated electricity, then forgot all about it until bills with whopping increases began to arrive.

All of these things happened because citizens didn't speak up, or speak up loudly enough, against them. If the generation graduating this spring does nothing else, it needs to oppose such nonsense and vote out those who condone it.

Fortunately, there are more tools than ever to do that. Copies of bills and government report are posted on Web sites for everyone to see. Reporters, bloggers and other interested parties can dig into them and share what they find with the world.

Yes, it is work to do that, but it's part of the responsibility that comes with being a citizen. As they say, freedom isn't free, and it doesn't require an army to control a country.

All it takes is for people to stop paying attention while someone else is ransacking the treasury or whittling away at citizens' rights bit by bit.

It has happened and it is happening now. Our advice, on the occasion of your graduation, is to try not to let it happen again.

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