Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Commencement Speaker Derby: Who Would You Choose?

The Daily Beast recently posted a piece that was equal parts candy and catnip for we speechwriters — a ranked list of the most in demand commencement speakers.  The Beasties looked at a sampling of the top 50 schools around the country, and found that these high-profile speaking slots are increasingly doled out to news anchors, television personalities, and other celebs.  That got us wondering: is there any place for public intellectuals and experts in academia's version of primetime?  We put that question to our speechwriters and asked them to offer their thoughts on whose wise words should guide the next generation of higher education.

I would add Doris Kearns Goodwin to the list. She's just so authentically warm and engaging and has the ability to connect with any audience.
        -- Michael Spoodis, Principal, Spoodis LLC

This doesn't fall under the category for the number of commencement speeches, but I wrote the first extraterrestrial graduation address, given by International Space Station astronaut Mike Fincke from Earth orbit to the University of North Dakota class of 2004.  
        -- Ed Goldstein, public policy and communications professional

Looking at the Daily Beast list, I worry for my country. Ex Presidents, the odd cabinet secretary who has become a celebrity, a poet or two – all well and good, and sometimes better than that. But newscasters? Do we really ascribe wisdom to them? They live in the daily. The young can hear them any old time. I suppose they speak well, which is entertaining. But we have more than enough entertainment in our lives. Graduating seniors may want some wisdom about life, or, at least, a realistic portrayal of how you get from here to there. I suppose the average CEO is dull.  Have we no exciting scientists? People who do things that make a difference, but which aren’t political?

While I am sure that many people look at heads of advocacy organizations as models of morality, I can only say from my own long ago experience that having Marian Wright Edelman as a commencement speaker was too political, and quite annoying to all those students who weren’t bleeding hearts, and to those parents who had just finished paying for an education, who did not wish to see their values and their politics insulted at a day of celebration.  BTW, that was 30 years ago.  She has lost on every issue the electorate has had any say about. I suppose availability is a value.
        -- Lisa Schiffren, political speechwriter

What about the one I wrote? Just kidding.
        -- Jeff Porro, Principal, Porro Associates
Solzhenitsyn at Harvard, 1978, should be number one.  That it’s not even on the list is embarrassing.  Bush’s speech at West Point in 2002 was his best and most consequential commencement.
        -- Michael Anton, Managing Partner, Revere Advisors, LLC

1 comment:

Laura said...

...for "us" speechwriters.