I spent this weekend at the University of Wisconsin to watch my niece graduate with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the country’s premier institutions of higher learning. It was an absolute thrill to watch her walk the platform, receive her degree, and join more than 2,000 fellow graduates that will join the work force in the weeks and months to come.

The obvious questions on the minds of all of these well educated, dedicated, former students must have been: “Where will I go to work tomorrow?”, “Are there any jobs available in this economy?”, “How will I pay back my student loans?”

During my three days at the SHRM Conference, I spoke with hundreds of talent acquisition professionals who indicated that their biggest worry for the next 5-8 years was finding enough highly educated and capable professionals to fill the positions outgoing baby boomers will leave open.   More than 90% of these same individuals indicated they had more open positions today than they have had in the past 2-3 years.  Although the nation’s unemployment rate is still hovering over 9%, employers are still seeking to fill millions of open positions as I write this blog.

In contrast to what was being discussed at the SHRM Staffing Management Conference, the key speaker at the graduation ceremony I just returned from painted a very bleak, politically charged picture of the current opportunities available to new graduates.   What was even more shocking was that the guest speaker was none other than our current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan!

The opinion of many is that Secretary Duncan delivered a less then motivating speech that left many of the graduates wondering if there is any hope in their search for gainful employment.  Over and over Duncan referenced the difficult job market facing new graduates, not once mentioning the opportunities that exist now and that will exist in the future.  Now I am all for being a realist, however providing a dismal view of the future with a hint of governmental dependence does not help create encouraged, motivated employees.

At almost every conference or webinar I hear about the “me” attitude that our newest entrants to the workforce exude.  Millenials are often described as less engaged in their careers and having an attitude of intense entitlement.  Unfortunately with commencement speeches like the one I just heard Secretary Duncan deliver, it is no wonder many in the younger generation view their jobs as an entitlement and not an earned privilege.

Lets balance reality with optimism and drive our new grads to excel through an expectation of excellence, not reliance.