Andrew A. Rooney
The headline reads, GRADUATES TO FIND JOBS SCARCE.
How many times have you read that story?
I don't offhand recall any year that wasn't the most difficult there ever was for graduating seniors to find jobs.
Each of us, at one time or another in our lives, has had a tough time finding a job, so we're sympathetic. We want to help. We don't want to give them a job, but we want to help.
The speakers at high school and college graduation ceremonies want to help by giving advice. I've been reading excerpts from some of the speeches.
For some reason, giving a commencement address brings out the worst in a speaker. Otherwise bright, normal, nice people turn themselves into pompous asses for the day. Years ago I spoke to the graduating class at the high school I attended, and I shudder to think what I told them and what my attitude was while I did it.
Pompous speeches are not necessarily the speaker's fault. That's what a commencement speech is supposed to be. The speaker is there to give the ceremony some importance so he or she has to say some important-sounding things.
(I don't know who makes the decision about whether to call it "graduation" or "commencement." There's a big difference in attitude between the two words. "Graduation" suggests students have finished with something and "commencement" suggests they're just starting.)
President A. Bartlett Giamatti of Yale University gave one of the speeches I read. Except for the fact that he uses the "A." that way for his name, Dr. Giamatti is a brilliant, down-to-earth scholar. Normally what I see of his writing is so much smarter than I am that I'm discouraged by it, so naturally I was happy to note that he's only human. When he wrote this, he fell into the rhythm of the traditional graduation speech cliché, proving he's mortal.
There are some easily identifiable clues by which a graduation address can be detected.
First, the speaker starts with some light, often deprecating remark about either himself or commencement speeches in general. Dr. Giamatti did that: