May 3, 2023

FRIEDMAN | Open Letter to Mr. Maher, Class of ‘78

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“My complaint is that our young people are immature, compared to other countries and other times in history, we raised very immature people because we coddled them, we gave them a sense of entitlement, they don’t have to learn anything in school,” stated famed host Bill Maher, College of Arts & Sciences ‘78, during the April 14 discussion on his show Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO.

Let’s analyze Mr. Maher’s words using a comparative approach. Since Mr. Maher’s alma mater is Cornell, it seems relatively easy to compare today’s Cornell students with those in the mythical past, a past which he now views as a beloved, sacred time. 

Two questions are important to consider: Do Cornell students “have to learn anything in school,” and what did they spend their time doing in bygone decades? Well, a quick search reveals Mr. Maher told Bloomberg in 2013 that “selling pot allowed [him] to get through college and make enough money to start off in comedy.” Mr. Maher, surely you would not attack an entire generation for the same “entitled” behavior you yourself engaged in and now condone with utter disdain?

By his own admission, Mr. Maher’s conduct at Cornell mirrored the conduct of those that he now demeans as fools beholden only to their parents’ paychecks. Moralization aside, Mr. Maher’s own conduct in school — namely the very same school we all attend — seems eerily similar to many of our friends and classmates. So what makes our generation of students any more lazy or “immature” than his? 

If Mr. Maher was free to stumble down the cracked streets of collegetown, what power now makes him the chief moralizer — free to critique behavior he once modeled? It’s clear Mr. Maher felt a “sense of entitlement” to peruse above Cayuga’s waters trading illicit goods and services with his fellow students — federal law notwithstanding. 

But in a twist of fate, those who follow the exact academic and social pattern set forward by Mr. Maher are accused of not having to “learn anything in school.”

I write this column not because I oppose Mr. Maher’s past behavior but precisely because I support the youthful freedoms Mr. Maher once enjoyed. Therefore, in an effort to correct the record regarding our generation I seek to dispute just one claim — and one claim only — that today’s students are asleep at the wheel. 

My point is merely that if Mr. Maher’s generation could balance a social life with school, so can ours. Students, especially at this institution, work just as hard, if not harder, than any group of students in the past. 

I do not need to provide exhaustive evidence of Cornell students’ extraordinary achievements and efforts. One look at the tremendous opportunities students love to proclaim on LinkedIn as well as a walkthrough of the engineering building past midnight should make the hard work of today’s Cornell students clear as day.

Mr. Maher, a large portion of Cornell students probably agree with many of your other public positions on balance, including the corrosion of society through social media as one example. 

But your years of expertise must have taught you that calling 15,000 of us undergraduates completely lazy and “coddled” as a collective group will utterly alienate even your closest supporters on other issues. And especially because a five second search of Wikipedia illuminates your own words to Bloomberg (not some hidden and secretive source) detailing your unlimited “sense of entitlement” at Cornell.

Aaron Friedman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honest AF runs every other Tuesday this semester.