Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Commencement Addresses, Great and Small

Just more than 1.6 million American students will graduate from college this spring.  Many will receive their diplomas in formal ceremonies, and in most cases they will hear a commencement speaker.

The commencement address exhorts graduates on how to proceed into careers and adult life.  The usual themes are to follow one's passion, do good works and not give up when obstacles arise.

As with all things these days, there is a website for this, graduationwisdom.com, which is actually very good.  The creator rates the finest speeches each year and offers tips for writing a good commencement address.

Some of her favorites from recent years are the following:

Author George Saunders at Syracuse University in 2013:  "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness."

Teacher David McCullough, Jr, at Wellesley High School in 2012:  "... selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself."

Arnold Schwarzenegger at the University of Southern California in 2009:  "Just remember, you can't climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets."

Author J.K. Rowling at Harvard in 2008:  "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all -- in which case you fail by default."

Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005:  "... Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.  It is Life's change agent."

All these, and many others, are available on YouTube and in transcriptions on the internet.  Well worth a look.

I enjoyed watching and reading these commencement addresses in part because my own experience -- perhaps like that of most graduates -- was far less lofty.

I don't remember who spoke at my college graduation.  She blathered on about I don't know what, and in a quite authoritarian tone.   By the time she was finished I disliked her intensely.

The speaker when I received my master's degree was a prominent politician who couldn't string together two coherent sentences in a row.  I was so dazzled and amazed by his bad grammar and worse syntax that I completely missed the gist of his message.

I hope sincerely that all this year's graduates are treated to more thoughtful speeches at their own commencement ceremonies.

Next: Commencement Speakers Just Say No

No comments:

Post a Comment