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This weekend we celebrate not one, but THREE holidays—Labor Day, National Food Bank Day and National College Colors Day.
Let’s start with the last of these first. I was privileged to go to two universities. For my undergraduate work, I went to UW-Milwaukee. (Go Panthers!) And for my graduate work, I went to Washington University in St. Louis. (Go Bears!)
I am very grateful that I had a chance to go to these two excellent schools. And I’m even more grateful, that unlike most of the students of today, I was able to graduate without excessive and crippling student debt. Partly this was because my parents started saving for me to go to college when I was born. But part of this is because school costs more—I mean a LOT more than it used to. Today’s average college tuition is over thirty times what it was in 1968 (when I was born and my Mom and Dad started putting away money for school). So, what about inflation? Even accounting for inflation, the cost to go to school is 3.5 times higher than it was in the past. When I went to college, average tuition at a public school was about $1,500. Now the average cost is over 10K. So, this leads me to my next point. (I’m stringing these together, I promise you.)
Today is also national food bank day. And if you want to look at a connection between colleges and food banks, you needn’t look very far. According to Swipe Out Hunger, 1 in 3 college students faces food insecurity nationally. And college students represent just a fraction of the people who go hungry in the United States every day. Feeding America projects that 1 in 8 people (including 13 million children) are likely to experience food insecurity this year.
Which brings us around to Labor Day. This is Labor Day Weekend. For many of us this means firing up the BBQ and cooking some hot dogs and burgers for one last summer picnic before the school year really gets in swing. But why was Labor Day created? Surely not just for grilling and going to the beach. Labor Day is set aside to pay tribute to American workers. The holiday was believed to have begun in Labor Unions who worked to help improve conditions for US Workers. Labor Day is about celebrating not just workers, but those who have fought to create better conditions for workers. However, you may have noticed that your favorite stores are not only open, but also offering special sales this weekend. And the restaurants will be flooded with guests. That means, not everybody is likely to be getting Monday off. Some people will be working far more than 40 hours this week, and will still find themselves, college educated or not, hungry.
Let me tie these things together now. I think this weekend should include equal parts of the 3 big “C”s—COLORS, CELEBRATION, and COMPASSION. This is a great time to pull out your cozy college sweaters or sweatshirts. Wear your colors proudly. And celebrate the work you’ve done this year. It’s been a tough one, and you made it through.
But don’t forget about compassion. It may not be the same for today’s college students as it was for you. And not everybody will get Monday off. So, I’d like to encourage you to take a little time on this important weekend, to go through your cupboards and find a little something you can donate to your local food pantry. I’m not talking about the stuff that’s past it’s due date or that weird can of soup you bought last year. I mean the GOOD mac and cheese or the best dried pasta. Help a starving college student or struggling worker to have something to celebrate with you.