Today was graduation. Despite the fact that it requires me to get up at 6am on a Saturday, and I have to wear the dorky robe and funny hat, I like graduation. It gives me a chance to share a moment of joy with my students. Most of them are the first in their families to graduate from college, and it's wonderful to see the pride in themselves and their families.
Unfortunately, this year's speaker (the CEO of a large media conglomorate) used the opportunity to proselytize Christianity--not cool for a public university where many of the faculty and students are not Christian. Then he went on about the great war we're fighting against tyranny, and how the grads ought to join the fight. I hate to be rude to a commencement speaker, but I did not applaud. I have some students who are veterans of that "war against tyranny" and it has messed them up. These bright, dedicated people will probably never have a career in their chosen profession because of the physical and psychological damage they received.
Personally, I think commencement speakers are unnecessary to begin with. Out of all the graduations I've attended over the years, only one speaker sticks out in my mind, and that was Bill Cosby. Just skip the speakers and get on with celebrating the graduates.
But if there must be a speaker, it would be nice if he avoided ticking off big chunks of the audience through religion and politics. There are many appropriate venues for speech on those topics, but I don't think graduation is one. How many of the students and their families felt alienated today because they weren't Christian or had different views on the war?
In the extremely unlikely event I ever give a commencement address, I will not discuss my personal views. Not that I'm generally shy about sharing them--you all know what I think about things! Goodness knows my students come out of my classes with no doubts about what my views are. And I won't give a bunch of boring advice nobody will pay attention to or remember. I'll be brief and funny, and I'll lead the crowd in appreciating all the hard work that's gone into getting to that day. And probably nobody will remember any of it anyway.
The good news is that probably most of the grads and their families will quickly forget today's commencement speaker, too, and will go on to happily celebrate their accomplishments.