Katie Couric Speaks at University of Wisconsin-Madison Commencement

Every spring, the media likes to highlight some of the most high-profile speakers at college commencements across the country. Robert De Niro, Jon Bon Jovi, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Salman Rushdie are just a handful of the entertainers, politicians, businesspeople, and public figures that took to the stage this year to impart their wisdom on the soon-to-be graduates at colleges and universities across the country.

Some speeches are comedic, and others more serious, but one of the commencement speeches that is generating a lot of buzz was delivered by renowned journalist and author Katie Couric. On May 16, Couric addressed the students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as their friends, family, and professors. Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is the official state university of Wisconsin. Prominent alumni from the university include social entrepreneur Ben Schumaker, actress Joan Cusack, author and activist bell hooks, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, businessman John Oros, Dick Cheney, and many, many others.

“I know you must be feeling so many things right now,” Couric said to the graduates towards the beginning of her speech, “relieved, excited, sad, nervous; maybe a bit sleep perhaps a tad hungover,” she joked. “But I hope most of you are feeling proud, lucky and grateful.” During the speech, Couric provided wisdom, encouraging words, and career advice. Here are some of the highlights from her commencement address:

On the world the graduates are living in today…

“We are in the midst of breathtaking, head-swiveling change, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Industrial Revolution – and technology is the engine that’s powering it. It’s changed the way we bank, shop, drive or don’t drive, cook, commute, communicate, date, navigate, educate, translate – you get the picture!”

On Millennials in the workforce…

“According to one projection, millennials will average 15 to 20 jobs before they retire and move positions an average of every three to four years. Today’s career ladder looks more like an Escher drawing. Which one do I choose? How do I start? Where will it lead me? There are 6,936 different paths that will be taken by you, the class of 2015.”

On career advice…

“Get your rears in gear, and at some point take a job, even a less than perfect one… because it will teach you about responsibility, initiative, follow through, how to deal with a demanding boss or an annoying co-worker. It could lead to a better job, open your eyes to something else, or – just as importantly – tell you what you DON’T want to be doing.”

On being the most diverse generation in history…

“You are the engineers of social justice. You’ve shown you care about what happens in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and Madison. You’ve shown you care about gay rights, women’s rights and human rights. You believe every child in this country should have access to a quality education. All people should be able to lift themselves out of poverty and have a chance to grab their piece of the American dream. You care about the environment, and I know you’ll do a better job of protecting it than we have.

And as the most diverse generation in history, you will witness and embrace the dynamism and vibrancy of a pluralistic society: a beautiful patchwork of people, with unique perspectives but shared goals.”

On activism and continual learning…

“Keep asking questions. Keep demanding change. But remember: activism can’t truly lead to lasting, meaningful change without dialogue, even with those with whom you may disagree.”

To read Katie Couric’s commencement speech in full, head over to TIME for the transcript.

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California Farmers Volunteer to Use Less Water


Image: Don McCullough via Flickr CC.

Farmers across California will be drastically cutting their water use to help conserve the dwindling supplies in California. On Friday, officials approved a plan for farmers from one region of the state to give up a quarter of the water they would use during this year’s growing season. The farmers from Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have given state officials an offer to give up a quarter of their water this season, either by leaving part of their land unplanted or finding other ways to reduce their water use.

The deal although important, is a relatively small number of growers that officials hope will prompt similar behavior and agreements throughout the state’s agriculture industry, which uses 80 percent of the water consumed in the state in a normal year.

“We’re in an unprecedented drought, and we have to exercise the state’s water rights in an unprecedented way,” said Felicia Marcus, the chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board. “This is a breakthrough in what has long been a rhetorical battle. It’s a significant turning point to have people say, ‘We know this is complicated. We want to do something early in good faith that is a pragmatic solution for everyone.’ ”

The drought in California is so serious that the Governor announced big mandatory cuts to water usage this week, for the first time in state history. The scary part is that according to NASA, the sate only has about a year of water left in its reservoirs. In addition, the state only had about 5% of its normal snowpack this year.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Sentenced to Death

In April, it was announced that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the young man who was responsible in part for the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, was found guilty on all charges against him. Last week, news broke that Tsarnaev would be sentenced to death for the crimes he committed in 2013.

Although one might think that this sentencing would provide closure to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and their families and friends, Tsarnaev’s death sentence is actually a lot more complicated than that. For one thing, Tsarnaev was sentenced by a federal jury, whose decision to execute him as a punishment for his crime overrides Massachusetts’ death penalty ban. The death penalty has been banned in Massachusetts since 1987, and has not carried out an execution since 1947. According to Democracy Now!, polls reveal that a staggering 85% of Bostonians oppose the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev boston marathon bombing

Officials hope that the death penalty sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will provide closure to those affected by the senseless violence of the Boston Marathon bombings. Image: RobinJP via Flickr CC.

According to Miami-based legal analyst Kendall Coffey, “The defense didn’t even dispute the actual guilt or innocence of the defendant, and then when you look at the magnitude, the detailed premeditation of the crime…it’s a death penalty case,” of the somewhat inevitable nature of Tsarnaev’s sentencing. “When jurors take an oath in such a serious and horrifying case, they’re mostly going to follow the oath, and the evidence was so overwhelming,” Coffey adds.

According to Democracy Now!, the jury used for this case was “death-qualified,” which apparently means that “each member had to be open to considering the death penalty, and anyone who opposed it could not serve.” The morality of the death penalty is a controversial topic to begin with, especially when the defendant committed a crime in a state that prohibits it. Reportedly, the jury reached a unanimous decision, but if they had failed to agree, a life sentence would have been imposed on Tsarnaev automatically.

After the sentencing, Attorney General Loretta Lynch commented, “We all know too well that no verdict can heal the wounds of those who lost loved ones, nor the minds and bodies of whose who suffered life changing injuries from this cowardly attack.” She also went on to say, “But the ultimate penalty is the fitting punishment for this horrific crime and we hope that the completion of this prosecution will bring some measure of closure to the victims and their families.”

How do you feel about Tsarnaev’s death penalty sentencing?

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Too Many Antibiotics in Youth Might Lead to Disease in Adulthood

antibiotics medicine

New research shows that giving kids too many antibiotics might be setting them up for a number of problems later in life. Image: Taki Steve via Flickr CC.

Giving kids too many antibiotics might be setting them up for a number of problems later in life, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. Antibiotics account for about one-quarter of all prescriptions given to children, but about one-third of those antibiotics are unnecessary. Unfortunately, those unnecessary antibiotics are most likely causing serious harm down the line.

The human body contains a lot of beneficial bacteria, mostly in the digestive tract. These bacteria, which make up a microbiome within the human body, are incredibly diverse, and like any ecosystem, our microbiomes are carefully balanced. These bacteria develop with us; it’s even possible to figure out how old a child is just by studying the bacteria in their body. And unfortunately, if anything happens to those bacteria, say one or two strains are wiped out by an antibiotic, they’re impossible to replace. Internal bacteria are like fingerprints in that they’re unique to each of us.

Antibiotics are used to treat all kinds of bacterial infections, but when they don’t have invasive bacteria to go after, they sometimes kill off beneficial bacteria, which can cause problems down the line. According to a recent study out of the University of Minnesota, interrupting bacterial development in children can result in a weakened immune system, allowing for the development of autoimmune diseases or making it easier to contract infectious diseases. It can also lead to the development of allergies and even obesity later in life.

The researchers hope that their study can help to develop a roadmap for future research. Such research might focus on the development of bacteria, and help us to determine when key developments happen, and how to ensure that they do occur without interference by antibiotics. It also stands as a warning to take more time when prescribing antibiotics to prevent their overuse. Parents should still consult doctors when their children become sick, but those doctors should be taking the time to carefully and correctly diagnose those children, to make sure that they actually have a bacterial infection that requires treatment.

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Oregon’s House Bill 2960 Moves Through Legislation Process


Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler. Image: via oregon.gov.

For more than two years, Oregon State Treasurer Tom Wheeler has been pushing for legislation that would require employers to automatically enroll their workers in a state-sponsored retirement plan. Currently, that push exists as House Bill 2960, which is making its way through the Oregon legislature.

In 2013, lawmakers set up a task force led by Wheeler to determine recommendations for standards and plans. More recently, Wheeler has tried to move the focus away from committee work and into a definite law. His work has been supported by big names around the country, including AARP and former Republican Party chairman and current KKR advisor Ken Mehlman.

Wheeler cautions that the legislation would not benefit Baby Boomers, but it would help current workers between the ages of 25 and 45 who will be in desperate need of retirement funds very soon.

“That cost to taxpayers down the road will be staggering,” Wheeler said. “More and more people will rely instead on costly government safety-net services to get them through their retirement years, instead of a practical, low-cost, portable way for them to save their own resources for their retirement.”

The 2013 task force found that workers in the potentially affected age range have average retirement savings of only $25,000. While defined retirement plans covered 60% of workers in 1980, they currently only cover 7%…which means employees are in danger of a serious lack of funds once it comes time to retire.

California was the first to enact a state-sponsored retirement savings program in 2012, with Illinois following in January of this year. Oregon, along with twenty other states, has considered steps but has yet to officially enact any laws.

The program would be modeled after an IRA and would involve an automatic 3% payroll deduction with employees given the ability to opt out if they so choose. According to a March report by the Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University, about 400,000 workers would benefit from this sort of program, tallying up to $2 billion in retirement savings.

The future of such a program is still very much up in the air, however. Some business organizations, such as the Portland Business Alliance, Standard Insurance, and the Security Industry and Financial Markets Association, currently oppose Bill 2960.

“But I have yet to hear the owner or operator of a single business come to me, in all of the meetings I have had with chamber of commerce groups, and say that this proposal is costly and burdensome,” Wheeler noted.

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