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posted by Satyam Kaswala in In The News

The Great Commencement Speech

May 22, 2012

It's the season of the most time-honored of traditions: the commencement speech. Politicians, professionals and celebrities alike are imparting their advice as graduates march into their futures, one foot heavy with excitement and the other with trepidation.

Yesterday, President Obama told graduating high school seniors of Joplin, MO., that they wouldn't be defined by the difficulties they face in life, but rather by the strength, grace and committment with which they respond. His words took on particular poignancy because Joplin is still recovering after a deadly tornado ravaged the town a year ago.


 

Governer Deal advised spring UGA graduates to be brave and fear only the unlived life, not failure.

The commencement address that has most profoundly impacted my life is one I did not hear in person. It belongs to the late, great writer David Foster Wallace, and stands in a class of its own. In a 2005 address to Kenyon, he urged us to lead meaningful lives and to resist the "default settings" that inhibit awareness and trap us in mindless complancency.

With humility and courage, he spoke to our spiritual selves: "In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship...is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive." Worshipping what doesn't last- money, things, bodily beauty or power- would never fulfill us.

Historically, commencement speeches have also been used to push forward sweeping policy proposals. Some of the most important ideas and programs of the twenthieth century- Churchill's "iron curtain," the Marshall Plan, Kennedy's nuclear test ban treaty- were introduced during commencement addresses. 

What do you remember about your commencement speech or speaker when you graduated? 

If you haven't yet graduated, what do you hope to hear or learn during commencement speeches?

What is the role of the commencement speech? Should it be hopeful, realistic or personal?

Is political language or religious imagery important within the addresses?

 

 

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