David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Who Is That Person Rambling On Stage

April 30, 2013: "Who is That Person Rambling on Stage?"

Now is the time of year for the Commencement Address, the time of year when most students tune out some old person with a microphone who drones on and on for 15 or 20 minutes (if they're lucky) defining success, or sporting cliches, or reliving personal anecdotes.  In many cases, the students have never even heard of the guest speaker at Commencement, and certainly don't remember even a few years later who that person was. (At one of my two Commencements at WVU, the speaker was Jay Rockefeller.  Why do I remember?  Because he is something like 6 feet 7 inches tall and there were graduates, yes I should be ashamed to admit this of my classmates, who were trying to hit that large target with champagne corks.)

Commencing in February every year, then, Inside Higher Education starts to list the Commencement speakers scheduled around the country.  Generally 15 or so names are listed a week, from early February through mid May when the Commencement season winds down. Reading these weekly updates is a nice way to kill a few minutes.  Who's speaking where?  Who's topped whom as a better headliner?

For this year, I have noted a few interesting Commencement speakers.  For one thing, Bill Cosby and New York Mayor Bloomberg have both accepted multiple speaking opportunities.  Cosby will speak at Paul Quinn College and at Marquette University; Bloomberg will speak at Cooper Union and Stanford University.  Anybody else have the feeling that Cosby and Bloomberg are using the lesser-known institutions as warm-up acts?  Anybody else agree that Cosby's is the harder ticket to get?  Can you imagine if he lays into the entitlement felt by many current young people in the same way he can lay into teenage children?

"I asked my boss for a cell phone allowance; he told me how he once wrestled Henry Ford for a penny they found on the floor."

On the other end of the spectrum are two celebrity Commencement speakers.  Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame, will be speaking at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.  I can't imagine for a second that he will let a joke about Walla Walla pass him by.  I can see the headline writer's dream headline:  Wit Man Waxes for Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington.  His message will resonate with those students not wanting to be folded into the post-college mainstream:

"Yes, I quite agree, what's the point of being treated like sheeo.  What's the point of working if you're just another graduate sitting in a cubicle surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Kentucky in their ballcaps and their dockers with their Androids and their I-pads, complaining about the coffee--'Oh, they don't make it properly here, do they, not like at Starbucks' and stopping at suburban Chili's selling burgers and fries and Miller Sixty-Four and clove cigars . . ."

Meanwhile, on an even more absurd swing of the pendulum. we have Ed O'Neill (yes, Mr. Al Bundy) speaking at Youngstown State's Commencement in Ohio.  In all honesty, I am sure Mr. O'Neill has some wonderful things to say that transcend the character that made him famous.  However, since Youngstown State is one of the universities to react quickly, and, if you ask me, poorly, to the Affordable Health Care Act, I can't help but see the hapless, penniless, shoe-selling Al Bundy as the perfect spokesperson for the Youngstown adjunct:

"Of course, my present lack of faith is understandable since your average parking meter makes more a day than I do."

All kidding aside, the one Commencement that may have the most interested audience is Assumption College's, where the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston Field Division will speak.  Talk about a coup. I'm sure no one back in March when this was announced had any idea how timely this year's Commencement speaker would be.

So, some graduates this year have something to look forward to.  Even Al Bundy is only a step down from Charlie Sheen, who last year was the object of several University student campaigns for Commencement speaker.  What college graduate doesn't want to hear how to make a career out of being drunk, nude and passed out next to a hooker?