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5 Ways to Ruin a Commencement Speech

Thumbs down to these narcissistic, cliched, predictable speakers.

by
Jeanette Pryor

Bio

June 22, 2012 - 7:00 am
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Every spring millions of Americans make the near-ultimate sacrifice for a loved one. Facing often mind-numbing torture, devoted friends and family prove their unconditional devotion by attending a college graduation ceremony.

The essence of graduation is the conferring by an institution, and the reception by a student, of a diploma. This supposedly guarantees that said individual ”is worthy of the degree for which he/she is presented.” Unfortunately the lords of “these hallowed halls” have taken advantage of the hostage-like circumstances in which graduates and their guests find themselves and purposely place diploma distribution at the very end of the festivities.

Sadistically transforming the whole business into “Academy Awards for Smart People,” deans, chairs, and others clad in the trappings of antiquity first bestow upon one another honorary degrees and the wherewithal to enlarge mothy hood collections.

The apex of agony, though there have been memorable exceptions, is usually the commencement address, final words of wisdom imparted after the president of the alumni association welcomes the graduates into the ranks of donors-in-perpetuum.

The commencement speech should honor the accomplishments of those completing their education and impart succinct advice for navigating the world they are about to enter as true adults.

Northwestern University’s 2012 ceremony was a welcome departure from the usually bleak norm. Students devoid of cynicism, pithy Dean “Morty” Schapiro — whose well-earned status among students borders on that of a rock-star — and a dearth of superfluous awards succeeded in rendering the event pleasant.

In spite of this, several addresses offered perfect illustrations of what NOT to do when giving a commencement speech. Remember them. Avoid using them the next time you are called upon to send thousands of America’s best educated young men and women into the real world. Or pass some fun time scouting for them the next time you have to prove your love by attending graduation.

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