Friday, August 21, 2015

The oxymoronic nature of commencement speeches

Dartmouth Class of 2015: It’s an honor to be at your tree stump. As your Commencement speaker, I have important responsibilities. Commencement speakers have to be skilled at pretentious verbiage and pompous but completely meaningless rhetoric. I think you made a smart move when you asked someone who normally teaches at Yale. ...

This may be your first college Commencement, but you probably know these addresses have a certain formula. The school asks a person who has achieved a certain level of career success to give you a speech telling you that career success is not important.

Then we’re supposed to give you a few minutes of completely garbage advice: Listen to your inner voice. Be true to yourself. Follow your passion. Your future is limitless.

First, my generation gives you a mountain of debt; then we give you career-derailing guidelines that will prevent you from ever paying it off.

I especially like all the Commencement addresses telling graduates how important it is to fail. These started a few years ago with a Steve Jobs address at Stanford built around the message. Well, failure is wonderful if you’re Steve Jobs. For most people, failure just stinks. Don’t fail.
--David Brooks to the Dartmouth class of 2015. HT: LY