It's Commencement, Not Entertainment Tonight
"Behind every success is endeavor. Behind endeavor, ability. Behind ability, knowledge. Behind knowledge, a seeker." Mark Twain
"The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse." Edward Koch
"All that stands between the graduate and the top of the ladder is the ladder." Sydney J. Harris
In our family Commencement 2006 brings a trifecta -- three first cousins, including our son graduate this month from three different universities. We're thrilled, we're proud, we're happy.
We're also exhausted.
And frankly, we're disappointed. Not in our grads. In the commencement speakers hired to inspire them.
Colleges and universities spend a lot of time, effort and money hosting elaborate ceremonies for this time-honored rite of passage. It's only fitting.
Parents have spent even more time, effort and money raising their kids and putting them through college. And most kids who make it to graduation have put in their own time and effort to get there.
So graduation day should be memorable. A celebration of achievement. Of transition from protected student to productive adult. And somebody credible should say something meaningful to mark such a momentous occasion.
It doesn't have to be yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah. Commencement speakers can be funny, interesting, in touch, cutting edge. But they should also be role models for the leaders of tomorrow. And they should have some stirring words of experience, vision and high expectations to offer.
Historically, commencement speakers have always had impressive academic resumes. Scholarly awards and published works. Relevant achievements and positions in their fields.
When my Boomer generation graduated college, many speakers brought new messages of protest and calls for change. But all still possessed the passion and the credentials that gave their words the proper power and gravitas.
All commencement speeches should be calls to action. Galvanizing, even rabble-rousing. Graduates should be encouraged to enter the adult world with fervor and purpose. Challenged to take on the future with determination and gusto.
Do graduates listen? Not all of them. But not all listened in class either. Those who did are more likely to pay attention to their commencement speakers and take away something of value along with their degrees.
But what value is offered these days at too many modern commencements -- Challenge? Inspiration? Knowledge? Not hardly. Today it's all about Celebrity. Entertainment. Slick sound bites.
Our kids are getting the message from their own institutions of higher learning that celebrity worship is more meaningful than academic achievement.
It's a disturbing message. It fits too neatly into our shallow, disengaged culture. Is this what our kids have been learning for the past four years? I hope not. Is this what we want for their future? No way.
Our son seems to have found a balance, a way to enjoy modern culture without being sucked into it's mindless void. He played hard but he worked harder at college, graduated the business school with honors and a dream job offer.
His focus now is firmly on his future as a committed, engaged citizen, on continued hard work and going for that MBA, on enjoying life while becoming a happy, healthy, wealthy, productive adult.
If he keeps this up, he'll be exactly the right kind of commencement speaker some day.