I don’t remember the names of the commencement speakers or the speeches they delivered when I graduated from high school in 1967 or college in 1971.
They may have been important people who had important messages. But I just don’t recall. It’s been too long.
Seniors in three recent graduating classes, however, have heard speeches from people they may well remember in the future.
One group of graduates is from Haverford College in Haverford, Penn. They got an earful from former Princeton president William Bowen.
You may have read that Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, withdrew from speaking at Haverford’s commencement. That came after some Haverford students had said his presence would have constituted an endorsement of his handling of a 2011 “Occupy” protest, where riot police were called in.
Bowen, who was already scheduled to speak at Haverford, told the grads he defends students’ right to protest, but “a liberal arts college like Haverford should be focused on encouraging debate, not shutting it down. He added that it was wrong for a leader of the Haverford protest to call Birgeneau’s decision not to appear a small victory.
“It represents nothing of the kind,” Bowen said. “In keeping with the views of many others in higher education, I regard this outcome as a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford — no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.”
He said more, but you get the idea.
Another memorable commencement speaker was Jill Abramson, who was recently fired as the New York Times’ executive editor after three years at the job.
“What’s next for me? I don’t know,” Abramson, who had worked at the Times for 17 years, told graduates at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “So I’m in exactly the same boat as you are. I’m a little scared but also excited.”
Abramson advised “anyone who has been dumped” to “show what you are made of.”
Another memorable commencement speaker was actress Sandra Bullock, who made an unadvertised appearance at the graduation ceremonies of Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans.
She told the grads to stop worrying so much and find their joy.
“It’s what you’re going to remember in the end. It’s not the worry, it’s not the what-ifs. It’s the joy that stays with you.”
Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This ran as a column in The North Scott Press.