Luskin: Useful graduation advice

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(HOST) Commentator Deborah Luskin has some ideas about the graduation speech she’d *like* to hear at her daughter’s graduation ceremonies.

(LUSKIN) My children are now in their graduating years, so I’ve been listening to a lot of graduation speeches, and the only thing I can remember about most of them is that they all went on too long.

Nor can I remember the speeches given at any of my own graduations. At my high school ceremony I was relieved to be done with what I considered a repressive regime more intent on enforcing good behavior than stimulating intellectual curiosity. My college graduation took place under a mid-western sun at midday. If someone gave a speech, I didn’t hear it. I was too numb from the heat and from worrying about what to do next. Despite earning high honors and learning a great deal about the narrative techniques of Jane Austen and Henry James, I was clueless about life. Death by heat stroke didn’t seem so bad.

I didn’t attend the ceremonies for any of my graduate degrees either. I passed on the opportunity to wear a black velvet gown with a powder blue hood on a blistering, hot day in New York. If I’ve learned anything in my many years of education, it’s that graduation ceremonies are long, hot and I’m still not convinced that they’re necessary.
Sure, the ceremonies are a chance to hear our full names read out loud, and to cross a line, both real and metaphorical. Graduation is a momentous event. But instead of a speech, a moment of silence might be a better way to mark the occasion.

By the time graduates receive their diplomas, they’ll have spent four years listening to what others have to say. And if by then they haven’t learned how to behave ethically in the greater world, a twenty minute speech won’t do much to fill in the gap.    

If there’s any advice that can get through to a graduate sweating under a polyester gown, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich, may have come closest with her famous piece, "Guide to Life for Graduates" in which she advises everyone to wear sunscreen.

A cyber-prankster spread this column around the world via the internet, saying it was written by Kurt Vonnegut and delivered to the 1997 graduating class at MIT, none of which is true. What is true is that people loved it and sent it to their friends, the majority of whom were not young graduates but mostly middle-aged people engaged in living and learning as life happens.

I wonder if any words of wisdom could have pierced my impatience as I waited for my high school graduation ceremonies to conclude. And would they have helped me through the next thirty years? Highly unlikely. Schmich says, "Advice, like youth, is probably wasted on the young." That’s why I think we ought to dispense with speeches, and have a long moment of silent reflection, instead.

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