WRITTEN BY JOSEPH MICHAEL MATOS
Dr. Marino is an adjunct professor of philosophy at SFC. Here is his take on the formula for a good commencement speech.
Commencement speeches are interesting things. Most speakers have wonderful intentions focusing their listeners on the future and the many possibilities awaiting them once they enter the so-called “real world” [as if college wasn’t part of that real world… I think it is].
Essentially, an effective speaker needs, I think, to engage his audience by connecting them, through true-to-life anecdotes and experiences, to their own lived experiences.
Too many speeches easily become “cookie-cutter” affairs which can be packaged in a very general way to almost any commencement exercise – just change the name of the institution and there you go.
I believe an effective speech connects the uniqueness of the institution to the uniqueness of those who are graduating and does so in crisp, clear, and concise ways.
Aside from being a talented speaker per se, the individual needs to:
know the audience; know whom you’re speaking to… avoid the stock phrases that we’ve heard too many times before; if you’re not gifted at humor, don’t go there…don’t underestimate your audience; give them credit for intelligence…be reasonably brief.
As far as a recommendation for a speaker, I’m afraid I don’t have one at this point. Perhaps if I think about it, I’ll come up with a suggestion.
I hope this helps.
From Dr. Marino’s insight, I found Russell Baker.
Russell Baker is a distinguished author and Pulitzer Prize winner. In 1995 he delivered a commencement speech at Connecticut College.
Baker gave a speech that was captivating. He opened the graduates’ eyes and did not lie to them.
Baker’s dark humor offered the Class of 1995 some real-world advice. Here are some excerpts from his speech:
“Listen once in a while. It’s amazing what you can hear. On a hot summer day in the country you can hear the corn growing, the crack of a tin roof buckling under the power of the sun.”
“…Or sometime when you’re talking up a storm so brilliant, so charming that you can hardly believe how wonderful you are, pause just a moment and listen to yourself. It’s good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe, just maybe, you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamelessly foolishly.”
“Sleep in the nude. In an age when people don’t even get dressed to go to the theater anymore, it’s silly getting dressed up to go to bed. What’s more, now that you can no longer smoke, drink gin or eat bacon and eggs without somebody trying to make you feel ashamed of yourself, sleeping in the nude is one deliciously sinful pleasure you can commit without being caught by the Puritan police squads that patrol the nation.”
“Get married. I know you don’t want to hear this, but getting married will give you a lot more satisfaction in the long run than your BMW….What’s more, without marriage you will have practically no material at all to work with when you decide to write a book or hire a psychiatrist.
When you get married, whatever you do, do not ask a lawyer to draw up a marriage contract spelling out how your lives will be divvied up when you get divorced. It’s hard enough making a marriage work without having a blueprint for its destruction drawn up before you go to the altar. Speaking of lawyers brings me to point nine and a half, which is: Avoid lawyers unless you have nothing to do with the rest of your life but kill time.”
SFC students could use a dose of realism from a speaker as captivating as Baker.
This is the third part in a series of articles SFC Today will be publishing entitled: Do good commencement speeches exist?