Preparing for College

Graduation Speakers: Good, Bad, and Controversial

For my older readers out there, can you remember who spoke at your high school and/or college graduation? No way can I recall my high school commencement speaker. I could look it up in my yearbook supplement, I suppose, but I’m too lazy. I didn’t attend my college graduation because I was already working my first job out of state. I can recall the speakers at my children’s college graduations, though. My daughter’s school had Sarah Brady and my son’s had their university president, Harold T. Shapiro. Now and then, controversy arises because of politics surrounding a particular speaker. Also, politicians, especially high-ranking ones, will use a graduation address to make some kind of policy or position statement.

Being a commencement speaker can also be a bully-pulpit opportunity. You may recall last year’s “excitement” about one high school graduation speaker. David McCullough Jr., speaking at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts told students “you’re not special” nine times and said that he was shocked by all the attention his “tough-love” address received. This year’s graduation speaker roster has also had some shake-ups. One IRS official slated to address graduates bailed on her plans to offer her perspective on beginning a new phase of life for the young grads because of the recent IRS scandal that currently shows no signs of getting any smaller. Lois Lerner, who is a 1978 alumna of Western New England University Law School and who also issued a preemptive apology for the IRS’s targeting of conservative tax-exempt-status applicants, withdrew her invitation to speak to law school grads. Small wonder.

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