Comments on: Is anyone speaking at commencement ceremonies this year? Or, why are rich & powerful people such wimps? History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sun, 28 Sep 2014 05:09:30 +0000 hourly 1 By: Historiann Sat, 17 May 2014 15:06:08 +0000 At last! Opinion journalism catches up with Historiann.

By: Historiann Fri, 16 May 2014 12:38:18 +0000 polisciprof: I like that strategy! I also think accomplished alumns might also put more effort into their commencement addresses than your average high-flyer who’s paid to speechify at all sorts of professional conventions and meetings.

Matt L.: I understand that there are a lot of students & faculty who might have been upset about Lagarde. (Smith has a lot more Dirty Hippies than Wellesley, for example, which has a major backchannel funneling their grads into IB jobs. Lagarde would have been a perfect Wellesley grad speaker choice.) But who cares? Why can’t students and faculty register their unhappiness, make their critiques on social media (which is where most of the “criticism” appears to have happened), and then have Lagarde at graduation.

Our rich and famous worthies really aren’t worthy of their own acclaim if they can’t handle a little social media blowback. Whatever! Someone might say something critical about them on Twitter. Who cares??? It’s not the universities disinviting these folks–they’re choosing not to engage their audience.

By: polisciprof Fri, 16 May 2014 12:27:29 +0000 My Uni has a sensible policy on commencement speakers….we invite back an alumnus. Saves the obscene speaking fees and puts a realistic model of what you can achieve with a degree from provincial U. This year’s speaker has a Harvard JD, clerked at SCOTUS, and now prosecutes white collar crime. He gave a good speech, too!

By: Matt_L Fri, 16 May 2014 03:31:43 +0000 The Lagarde cancellation is the only one I find puzzling.

A) Why did people really oppose her? I understand that the IMF is a dirty three letter word for some people, but its changed as an institution in the last few decades. Its policy prescriptions are no longer “one size fits all” liek they were in the 1980s and 1990s. Besides, Christine Lagarde would be exactly the sort of “lean in” type speaker they would want to trot out at a Smith commencement.

B) Why did she back out? She has a lot of American connections and has a pretty amazing career. I doubt a few students holding “abolish the IMF” signs a distraction or intimidating in any way.

By: Dr_Doctorstein Thu, 15 May 2014 14:44:13 +0000 Too many commencement speeches consist of stupid bromides about how to be successful or how to be happy. It would be nice to hear instead something a little less like a prosperity gospel and a little more like an Old Testament prophecy–maybe something along the lines of this: “I’m not going to stand up here and tell you how to be successful and happy. I don’t care if you’re successful and happy. Sh*t’s f*cked up out there, people, and you SHOULDN’T be happy! You should be very, very unhappy. You shouldn’t be happy until everybody’s happy. If you’ve been here for four years and still think higher education is about your happiness, you should just leave now because you don’t deserve a diploma. Thank you.”

It would be a nice change.

By: Historiann Thu, 15 May 2014 13:06:16 +0000 My undergrad commencement address was really good–from Cokie Roberts! She was optimistic and funny, which is about all most of us can expect. The previous year’s speaker was Frances FitzGerald–I kind of wished we could have had her again, once I learned who she was & why she might have some wisdom to impart.

In the 1980s, I attended a commencement at Boston University that featured Chief Justice William Rehnquist as the speaker/honoree. His appearance was vigorously protested in advance of his arrival on campus, but the only “bad behavior” of the grads on the field was quite mild: some held signs saying “Chief INjustice” and some stood and turned their backs while he spoke. None of them tried to drown him out or bomb the dais.

What the hell is wrong with that? Why can’t today’s graduation speakers handle that kind of rather polite dissent? Per Susan’s comment about her Ph.D. graduation ceremony: today’s honored speakers are a far lesser breed of human than yesterday’s speakers.

By: truffula Thu, 15 May 2014 11:00:07 +0000 tedious, boring and most people dress like clowns

I don’t get this. Why look down your nose at students who are proud of their accomplishment and the families and friends who love them?

By: Susan Thu, 15 May 2014 07:15:13 +0000 Our campus does not pay commencement speakers (other than expenses, and maybe a lunch after), and we don’t give honorary degrees. Speakers get a medal. I’ll miss commencement this year because I’m at a conference, but our speaker is a judge from a local ethnic community, the first judge in the US from that group. Decent, and for our mostly first generation students with immigrant parents, great to have a man who arrived in this county at age 8.

I’ve been puzzled by the cancellations this year, because my guess is that in the end, students would behave “properly”. Also touched, in a way, by the idealism of students, who seem to ink that there are these pure people out there. And somehow, I’d like to distinguish between war crimes and really bad/stupid decisions (Rice vs. Birgenau).

I’ve heard some good commencement addresses in my time (Marion aright Edelman, c. 1987 or so, with 5rules for living that included, “there is no limit to how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”: it’s almost 30 years and I still remember it.). The worst, I think was to the graduate convocation when I got my Ph.D: the speaker told us we were not as good as his generation!

By: truffula Thu, 15 May 2014 04:39:59 +0000 Why do we have commencement addresses? What’s the point? I served for some years at my old institution on the committee that selected student speakers for graduation (usually two). They were thoughtful, funny, inspirational, and usually better than the headliners. Why not just do that, play some music, say “well done” to everybody, and have a big party? Or maybe make the address a job requirement for proffies in philosophy, history, divinity, and the like?

I still remember the commencement address I heard when I was awarded my PhD. It was given by a professor of philosophy who told us we were living in the Age of Oedipus. It began thus:

“There are great poems about standing at a crossroads in life, but has anyone ever written about standing next to someone at a crossroads? Parents, relatives, friends, lovers: has anyone captured what you want to say to the loved one beside you? For years, I have had a fantasy of standing at the most famous crossroads in world literature, waiting for the hero to arrive. There is a question I want to ask him.

I am waiting for Oedipus to arrive. ”

The whole thing is here.

These days I sit up on stage and read the names of graduates from my school. This is excellent. The best address I’ve heard from that perspective was given by our mayor. He said, in effect, sorry you young folk, you have some allies among the old folk but you really shouldn’t count on us–we’ve messed a lot of stuff up and you need to think differently than we did. Our most recent commencement speaker was a retired very high profile sports coach who had a masters of teaching and started his career teaching in the public schools. He was pretty good, humble and friendly. He talked about knowing who you are and setting goals consistent with that knowledge.

By: Paul Harvey Thu, 15 May 2014 03:12:26 +0000 Historiann, this is the bright side of teaching at no-name inconsequential state institutions – no one knows or cares who speaks at graduation. Here, we don’t have a speaker — too many students to shuffle through the line in too little time. Not that I’m going :)