Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Graduation Faux Pas

My sister graduated from college last weekend. Being a loving brother, I took a weekend out of my life to fly up to Portland and watch the ceremony (sorry to the Portland friends I didn't have time to see: I really didn't have much time for socializing). For the most part, it went quite well. A speech by Ray Suarez, a family picnic, and a carnival-themed birthday party where I dressed as the bearded lady (miniskirt and all). You know, the usual.

There was one slightly awkward moment, though. Sitting in the audience waiting for the Phi Beta Kappa initiation ceremony to start (she's a clever one, my sister), I took a little time to chat with my dad. At some point, I launched into a diatribe about how boring your standard graduation is. You know: you sit in uncomfortable seats for a couple hours, just waiting for that 10-second interval when your friend/relative walks across their stage, while watching ceremonies for awards that don't interest you and listening to Pomp And Circumstance (I loath that song with a burning, burning passion).

And then every speech you hear at these events is pretty much the exact same. The phrase "value of a liberal-arts education" gets used more often than can reasonably be accommodated by a drinking game. Every college has "uniquely prepared you for the challenges of the modern world". Everybody who has ever graduated is living in "a unique period of human history". I'm sure you've heard this speech. Many, many times. (Of course, it's not that this stuff isn't true -- but there have to be more innovative ways of presenting it!)

After several minutes of somewhat spirited ranting on my part, the ceremony got underway. It was a reasonably good ceremony, all things considered. And then around halfway through, the master of ceremonies announced that the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences would be giving a brief speech to the graduates. And so the dean stood up to talk.

From the chair immediately behind me.

He had apparently been there the entire time, listening to me complain about how awful I was expecting him to be. If there had been any doubt that he had heard me, it was quickly dispelled by his first few words when he mentioned he had overheard someone in the audience complaining about the formulaicity of all of these speeches.

I slowly sank in my seat and didn't rise until well after he left the stage.

Of course, he did end up making exactly the kind of speech I had been grumbling about. So that made me feel a tiny bit better about things.


  1. That is a bit awkward, but about a thousand times better than if it had occurred *after* he had delivered the speech, so you can count yourself lucky on that count. ;)

    I remember someone streaked at K's graduation. That, while also cliched, was nevertheless entertaining.

    Some things are worth doing and saying even if they have been done and said before. Like being naked and yelling "aughghghggu."

  2. I am told that someone streaked at one of my graduation events. I don't remember this, but I have vague memories of hearing about it at the time while my view was obstructed.

    Nothing wrong with tradition, but spicing up the basic speech theme would have been nice. Not sure if you can improve on the theme of nudity and screaming, though. Perhaps if he'd been riding a bike?

  3. well done. well done my friend.

  4. I found that very entertaining. I have all the sympathy for you, rather than the dean. Of course it may be difficult for him to change his speech right away.

    Sometimes ceremonies are difficult. They want to momentous, but also to the point. It can be a tough line to walk. We are running into that problem with our wedding ceremony. Talk about cliches!

  5. hee hee, that's pretty funny. (poke, poke...) Do you have any pictures you would like to share of said bearded lady costume? : )

  6. Yeah, I gave a wedding speech once. It was very, very hard to be original and interesting while still covering all of the standard topics (they're wonderful for each other, etc.). Speech-writing is hard!

    I do, indeed, have pictures of the bearded lady outfit. You can find them on Facebook, or perhaps I shall repost them here in due course...

  7. Speech writing is hard. I was supposed to speak at my high school graduation, and ditched the speech in lieu of singing a song.

    He probably was giggling deep inside because he knew you were right. I'm skipping my graduation this time around.

  8. I haven't been to a graduation ceremony since high school. Because they're dreadful. (Although I do kind of wish I'd gone to the Phi Beta Kappa one, just to learn the handshake. On the other hand, I hate the Key Reporter and its terrible terrible writing, so perhaps I do not want to share a secret handshake with PBKs, or whatever they like to call themselves.) I completely and totally agree with you. And probably the Dean does too. How long has he been required to speak at these things? How many times a year does he have to do it? I bet there was a time when he wrote something new for each event. Looking on the bright side, maybe you have filled him with a renewed passion for graduation ceremony speech-writing!

    Pete went to a graduation where Vera Katz spoke. She said something about "making it quick" and then spoke for half an hour. He didn't attend his college graduation ceremony either. If we choose to blame Vera Katz, we could argue that bad graduation speeches ruin even future momentous events for everyone. In that case, you were really a live public service announcement. Kudos!

  9. Well if all he did was prove you right, why did he bring it up in the first place?
    And to clarify, I sat through two Vera Katz speeches. She spoke at my high school ceremony, and led off with the old "I'm sure you're all anxious to get out of here, so I won't talk for very long" crowd pleaser, and we all cheered, and then she gave The World's Worst graduation speech, in that it was exactly as you described, but twice as long. A couple years later, my sister graduates from PSU, and guess who's speaking, and guess what she opened with? And all the grads cheered, and I screamed "Don't believe her lies!" but they couldn't hear me, and that is my sad tale.

  10. Sydney: remind me some time, and I'll teach you the secret handshake. It's kinda keen.

    Rip: Apparently, my roommate's graduation speaker went on so long that his parents couldn't actually stick around to see him get his diploma -- they had to run off and get a plane.