On the Side| Brad Hicks

Here’s your pop quiz for the week: Who gave the commencement address at your high school or college graduation and what was the topic?


Time’s running out...

If you cannot remember, you are probably in the majority. As speeches go, commencement is generally not the time to make giant policy initiatives known, or offer the same kind of encouragement given by parents day-in and day-out. I know, Dad, geez....

While I barely made my own high school graduation and skipped my college graduation – both in favor of golf, as we discussed a few weeks back – I sat through plenty of high school graduations with a camera, and of course the graduations of my children.

The two best graduation speeches I heard at the high school level were given by popular teachers – and it was evident why they were popular. Each speaker highlighted the good times the students had, each speaker noted the challenging times, and each told the kids in robes that they could do it, but not to go it alone. The messages were laced with humor, particularly of incidents involving students and staff.

Naturally, a high school commencement address differs from a collegiate one. Some colleges invite heavy hitters with an expectation that the school will make the news. We saw an example of that last week with Hillary Clinton returning to her alma mater. The TV news folks played excerpts of the speech with regard to politics, some of the networks cheering her on and others pointing out the hypocrisy in it. Regardless of how you feel about the runner-up in last fall’s election, Wellesley College got what it wanted – a bunch of free publicity.

When my older son graduated from the University of Iowa, I expected a morning-long event. However, the student speaker got to the point and was up there for perhaps five minutes. Dr. Sally Mason, who was retiring as the university president, gave the main speech, and it lasted less than five minutes. She challenged the students to take what they learned and apply it in ways that would involve them in their communities. That’s a good message at any time.

All of that said, the best message I’ve ever heard presented to graduates came at a senior breakfast for one of my sons. I don’t remember the woman, I don’t remember why she was selected, and I don’t remember anything she said other than the simple point of her message: The most important decision of your life will not be about career or location – it will be who you choose for a spouse.” She expounded from there. I don’t know if the students really understood what she told them that day, but it was a life message that applied to all. I’m glad I lucked out.

Contact Brad Hicks at publisher@redoakexpress.com.

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