Alas, poor December 2011 USD graduates. They hit the books, each incur about $20,000 in debt to get their degrees, and whom do they get to honor them at their commencement? Congresswoman Kristi Noem, an insecure anti-intellectual who thinks they should have stayed home and taken online courses.

Noem's address Saturday to USD's 474 December graduates epitomized her ongoing insult to higher education. First, Noem refers to the 21-year process it has taken her to bring her own college diploma within reach. She still doesn't have it... and she continues to play dumb about it:

I have my fingers crossed because I've turned in my final paper and if it does well, I'm going to graduate with you in 2011 as well [Rep. Kristi Noem, commencement address, University of South Dakota, 2011.12.17, as quoted in David Lias, "Noem Tells USD Grads to Prepare for Life's Changes," Yankton Press and Dakotan, 2011.12.19].

Reporter Lias apparently declines to note the shrug and cheerleader giggle that almost had to accompany that line.

Is Kristi Noem really so stupid that she doesn't know if her final paper is good enough to pass? She's a 40-year-old Congresswoman, a former legislator and businesswoman. I would think she would have the confidence and self-awareness to assess the quality of her own undergraduate writing assignments... unless maybe she had spokesboy Joshua Shields write them for her.

Noem burbles on:

Boy, am I proud of you.... There are so many hurdles that keep you from getting a good, quality education, and you guys stepped through it [Noem via Lias, 2011].

A commencement address is the sort of oratory one practices and polishes. It is not an off-the-cuff chat with voters. "Boy" and "guys" are not marks of great oratory. If Noem had thought through her remarks, she also would have recognized before hitting the stage that "it" cannot refer to "hurdles."

I think you are a unique generation. You don't know of a world without the internet. If you wanted to know something or question something your professor told you over the years, all you had to do is Google it. This makes you much more perceptive ... you can tell a fake when you see it — you know when a deal is just too good to be true [Noem via Lias, 2011].

Note the dig at academia: professors are not to be trusted; they are to be questioned and fact-checked by diligent Googling. (Someone, please, get me a copy of Noem's final paper: I want to read all the citations of Wikipedia.)

After reviewing several commencement speeches online, Noem decided to crown her speech with the profound wisdom of Conan O'Brien. Oh, the insecurity: instead of citing a statesman or philosopher, our Congresswoman tries to show she's one of the cool kids.

I don't have a full transcript of her speech, so I can't tell just how much of O'Brien's 2011 speech at Dartmouth she quoted, but she appears to have borrowed from O'Brien at length. She probably didn't notice that her lengthy quotation included this passage

...[W]hether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality [Conan O'Brien, quoted by Noem via Lias, 2011].

Conviction and true originality. If only our Congresswoman could have mustered those qualities for our newest graduates.