Monday, June 21, 2010

My Top Three Commencement Addresses

Northwestern University finally held their commencement ceremony on Friday, so I think every possible member of the Class of 2010 has now officially graduated. Before the pomp and circumstance are too distant from everyone's minds, I wanted to share the three best commencement addresses I've ever heard. And, no, they do not include the addresses at my two NU commencement ceremonies (John McCain in 2005 and Barack Obama in 2006). It's amazing how much more heartfelt and eloquent speakers can be when they're not running for President of the United States...

If you don't have time to read/listen to these right now, be sure to bookmark them for further study. They are exceptionally well-written and contain tons of insights to chew on.

#3 Wynton Marsalis, Northwestern University, 2009
Our tour of commencement excellence (commenxcellence?) begins in Evanston, where the announcement of jazz prodigy Marsalis as speaker was greeted far too frequently by "Who's that?" from students. Due to a pending monsoon on the day of the ceremony, Marsalis had to shorten his speech, reading only the first and last pages. Even so, I was blown away by the force of his ideas, the eloquence of his prose and the awesomeness of the New Orleans ditty he played to close out his address.

EXCERPT: "See, we are always in the process of becoming ourselves. So, enjoyment – whatever it means to you – is something to pursue. Just like you lay out plans to be rich or in shape, plan to be happy. When something makes you happy – chase it. And if you’re not good at it, work on becoming good at it. And if you can’t be good at it, be happy being bad. The positive frame of reference and the power of affirmation create good health. Affirm people around you, and you will be affirmed."

VIDEO: Watch Marsalis's abbreviated speech and see him wail on his trumpet.

AUDIO: Fortunately, Marsalis agreed to record a full version of his speech, which I urge you to download and put on your iPod. I know I did.

FULL TEXT: Read it all here.

#2 David Brooks, Wake Forest University, 2007

I forget exactly how I came across this speech, but I liked the fact that so much wisdom was delivered with so much humor. I also really liked his definition of journalist.

EXCERPT: "Now, commencement is a ceremony when the university gets a rich and successful person to tell you that being rich and successful is not that important. Well I've got bad news for you. I'm not that rich and I'm not that successful. But I have been around successful people. You see, I'm a journalist. If you go to a stadium and you see the crowd doing the wave, there are some people who just sit there watching. Those people are journalists. We lead boring lives while hanging around people who lead interesting lives."

AUDIO: Click here to download the MP3 of the speech. This one is also on my iPod.

FULL TEXT: Read it all here.

#1 Tony Snow, Catholic University, 2007
This is the most powerful commencement address I've ever read. Delivered just a little more than a year before Snow succumbed to colon cancer at age 53, it's written with the compelling combination of faith and wisdom that so often seems to manifest itself in people who are staring down the barrel of a gun and wrestling with their own mortality. There's no multimedia version of this one, but it's well worth reading.

EXCERPT: "And once you realize that there is something greater than you out there, then you have to decide, "Do I acknowledge it and do I act upon it?" You have to at some point surrender yourself. And there is nothing worthwhile in your life that will not at some point require an act of submission."

FULL TEXT: Read it all here.

So those are my favorites. The best part about commencement addresses is the fact that there is a new batch of wisdom being unleashed on graduates every year. What other fantastic and inspiring commencement addresses are out there?

1 comment:

Erin said...

One of my favorites is Conan O'Brien's speech to Harvard University's class of 2000.

But I'll always be partial to Wynton Marsalis. :)