In his commencement speech at Drew University on Saturday, all-time leading NBA scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar challenged students to reimagine the American dream.
Abdul-Jabbar, who retired from the NBA after 20 seasons in 1989 and has since written 11 books, urged graduates of the New Jersey school to separate their vision of success from notions of wealth.
"Somewhere along the line, financial independence somehow got interpreted as fabulous wealth," he said, adding, "Today, that warped concept of the American dream is embodied by the Kim Kardashian phenomenon: fame and fortune heaped upon someone who offers no particular talent except self-promotion. She has more than 40 million followers on Twitter, but her insights are the Styrofoam peanuts of popular culture. Money for nothing indeed."
Instead, he said, he hopes students will tailor their ideas of fulfillment.
"Each generation must customize the American dream to fit their own circumstances and the realities of the world around them," he said. "Instead of promoting a generic dream, we need to encourage each new generation to prioritize their own values. Polls indicate that, as opposed to previous generations, millennials see travel as a major part of the American dream, as well as self-employment, and defining close friends as part of their family. This re-imagining is exactly what you should be doing."
And millennials, research shows, might not have much choice but to redefine success. According to a February research survey, they're the first generation in modern history to be overwhelmingly blocked from home ownership, thanks largely in part to student debt and the persisting effects of the Great Recession.
People of color and other oppressed groups, Abdul-Jabbar emphasized, face even more barriers to success.
"While I applaud your courage and intelligence in redefining the American dream to fit your personal vision of the future," he said, "it’s important that along with travel, self-employment and friends, commitment to championing the values of the U.S. Constitution be included, particularly the parts that condemn racism, sexism, homophobia and the exploitation of the poor."
"That," he concluded, "is an American dream worth dreaming.”