With yesterday’s Cranbrook Academy of Art ceremony under our belts, Kish and I have now endured more than a dozen commencement ceremonies for ourselves, the boys, and assorted family members.
We’ve clutched the colorful programs with the year prominently noted and the lists of graduates and degree recipients. We’ve heard the strains of Pomp and Circumstance and student musical offerings. We’ve nodded at the ponderous welcoming remarks of principals, deans, and dignitaries, watched countless honorary degrees be conferred, and seen thousands of students march by to receive their sheepskins.
And we’ve heard commencement addresses. Boy, have we ever! And with only two exceptions, they instantly were flushed down the memory hole, never to be recalled or considered again. The two exceptions were Chip Reid’s funny and graceful address at Vassar a few years ago, and the other is another commencement address so shockingly bad — so lengthy and leaden in its delivery, so self-absorbed in its rambling year-by-year account of the speaker’s career, so oblivious to the rumblings of the benumbed and increasingly agitated audience, and so pointless and irrelevant to the lives of the graduates and everyone else — that it will forever be treasured, perversely, as a part of family lore. That commencement address, at least, was unforgettable.
Yesterday, Richard posed a reasonable question: why not change the hoary model that every rational person despises? While a public awarding of degrees is an appropriate way of recognizing true achievement, why not ditch the banal speeches and cookie-cutter programming and jettison forever the dreaded “commencement address”? Why not give the students a larger role and allow them to at least display the uniqueness of their class, or instead do everyone a favor and get right to the photo ops and degree handoffs?
Any change to the pompous ceremony would be welcome. There has got to be a better way.