Saturday, August 13, 2011

Graduating the graduation

Recently we attended a college graduation ceremony where there were two featured speakers (not including a student valedictorian-esque one who preceded them). The first gave an excellent, rousing speech that offered germane advice for graduates and an inspirational story at the end; everyone paid rapt attention, and commented on how good he was. He got an enthusiastic standing ovation when he finished.

The second speaker droned on way too long about personal accomplishments (okay, we get it) and was so dull that I saw people in the crowd who literally fell asleep. During his speech you could hear murmurs of conversations throughout the graduates and the audience, as people clearly were not paying attention. The applause he received at the end was in part polite, and in part joy that he would not be talking any longer.

So, I offer this advice to those involved:

Academic administrators, do not feel obligated to invite someone successful to give that commencement address merely because he or she is a successful alumnus or has contributed to the university. However, you'll probably have to suck to such individuals, so we'll turn to those people who have achieved success.

Successful people, please bear in mind that merely because you have achieved what you have achieved that does not intrinsically indicate you are a good speaker; you may be surrounded by "yes men" so you'll have to know on your own whether you can get up at that podium and give the audience something that will not only keep them awake but also entertained and inspired. There's no shame if you are not such a speaker—there is only shame in doing so and forcing an audience to discover you're not. Clearly you have skills that make you worthwhile for other reasons; you don't need to undermine what you can do by agreeing to do something you cannot do when the administrators ask. Yes, they should have the backbone to not ask, but we both know that's not going to happen, so the onus is on you to politely decline and make everyone's lives better.

You're all clearly intelligent people, so please act like it. Okay? Okay.

1 comment:

  1. I've rarely seen an academic give a good speech. I think working in academia literally pounds all the good sense and interesting bits out of them.


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