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Words to graduate by

I have to admit that my favorite niche of non-fiction reading is commencement addresses. I first got attached to them when I was writing my senior honors thesis on an essayist who had at least three published. Since then, I’ve always been tickled when I find one included in a collection. It’s a tough form to write for, with some accepted forms which must be at least acknowledged, even if they are then ignored. (The first, and most famous, rule, is “Be brief.”)

Living, now, in a college town, I’ve paid more attention to them, especially as I shift into another period of my own life. I loved the tale of this spring’s commencement at one northeastern university, where the speaker, with rain pouring down on the crowd, stood up and said something along these lines: “I really appreciate that you’ve asked me here. Despite my prepared remarks, I think the best speech I can possibly give right now is this one: Congratulations. Now let’s get in out of the rain.”

While keeping an eye on some more prominent alumni of my college for this blog, I was led to the “President’s Remarks” of Reed College president Colin Diver, which, as a body of work, are quite entertaining.

Most recently, Laurel shared a link to a transcription of David Foster Wallace’s comments at Kenyon, which is actually one of the best and most perceptive commencement speeches I’ve ever read. I have a love-hate relationship with Wallace’s writing; at first, it’s audacious, fresh, and funny, but once that wore off I found the substance underneath to be somewhat uneven. If you can hang on through the somewhat lengthy set-up, the conclusion is one of his good parts.

Anyone else have a favorite commencement address somewhere? I found some good ones just by Googling the phrase. (Notes: the legendary, and fictional, Vonnegut address at Harvard doesn’t count. And I will ridicule you if you choose Solzhenitsyn’s address at Harvard in 1978, which is legendary in a bad way.)

Now Playing: Run It from Hootenanny by The Replacements


Will Ferrell gave the Class Day speech at Harvard in 2003. It always makes me laugh.


I don’t know if it would be posted yet, but John Lithgow’s speech at the Harvard Commencement this year was wonderful, though nothing other than an audio recording would do justice to the children’s story he told and the song “I’m a Manatee” that he sang at the end, as an encore to the standing ovation he received.

It was by far the best and most enjoyable commencement speech I’ve heard.

You didn’t mention a recently popular speech by Mr. Jobs, although I assume you’ve read it because you’re..umm…a computer geek.


Why, Bill Watterson’s of course— also at Kenyon:


That’s my favorite…

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