Graduation season has swept across America, ushering in a familiar phenomenon: the relentless parade of know-it-all pontificators more commonly known as "commencement speakers," armed with grandiose speeches that cause mental exhaustion and a collective rolling of eyes.
The esteemed tradition of summoning someone to impart words of wisdom most will promptly forget is nothing new. In fact, it’s an age-old practice which seemingly worsens, if not degenerates, with each passing year.
Instead of using these special opportunities to celebrate the accomplishments of graduates, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, it seems that most speakers these days would rather use such opportunities to indulge in their own pompous self-importance.
Year after year, graduates at ceremonies nationally, at schools both big and small, private and public, gain a first hand seat to an unfortunate trend in higher education: speakers hijacking what should be a momentous occasion for those graduating in order to spew their self-centered (and even sometimes divisive) monologues.
Rather than paying tribute to the dedication, perseverance, and achievements of the graduating class, these speakers turn the spotlight back onto themselves, under the arrogant assumption that their words hold more value than the collective efforts of the class they’re speaking to.
Here’s just a smattering of the "greatest hits" from this year:
- Graduates at Colorado College were forced to endure former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who used most of her speech to vehemently criticize her former GOP colleagues.
Cheney told graduates, "I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership." She further added, "You may have noticed that men are pretty much running things these days, and it’s not really going all that well."
No word yet on how Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, reacted to her latter claim.
Keep in mind, he was a fixture in Washington for three decades!
For nearly an hour, Cheney replaced what should have been an atmosphere of optimism and hope with one of fear and dread. Instead of inspiring graduates with unbounded confidence, her speech seemed intent on expanding her own self-grandiose.
- Not to be outdone in self-pontificating, President Joe Biden told graduates at Howard University that "white supremacy" was the "single most dangerous terrorist threat in our homeland."
Looking past the absurdity of this claim, it seems Biden took a detour from the longstanding precedent of chief executives delivering positive messages at commencements, and with it a trip back to the America of 1824.
Instead of using his platform to inspire and uplift the country’s rising generation, the president chose to stroke his own self-inflated ego, attempting to turn the event into a political rally.
In an apparent dig at former President Donald Trump, Biden warned graduates that there were "those who would do anything and everything, no matter how desperate or immoral, to hold onto power."
Where was the call for these graduates to go out and make the country better with their contributions and talents?
What about the imperative of leaving this nation better off for future generations?
Instead, Biden’s speech resembled a political rally, with one notable exception on his end: the crowd.
However, neither Biden or Cheney came close to topping the speech delivered by Oprah Winfrey at Tennessee State University.
It soared above the rest in terms of showcasing the former queen of daytime television’s own self-worth, putting Winfrey’s political beliefs on full display for those in attendance.
- Winfrey told graduates they had been witnesses while "voting rights are being gutted, women’s rights are being dismantled, books are being banned, and history is being rewritten."
Winfrey further claimed, "The Supreme Court is being corrupted. The debt ceiling is being held hostage. The climate is changing. The LGBT+ community in under attack."
I guess her own personal, inspiring story of rags-to-riches was perceived as being outdated or lacking relevance in 2023. A narrative that would have captivated audiences just a decade ago wasn’t woke enough for the class of 2023.
Instead of receiving cars or the latest electronics like her past audiences, TSU’s grads were treated to a political rant lacking substance.
In each of these instances, what should have been a genuine celebration of success took a back seat to the magnified egos of the speaker on hand.
Perhaps it's time to declare a moratorium on commencement speakers, or at least reevaluate the criteria for extending invitations to these individuals.
Graduation should be a time for those receiving degrees to bask in their accomplishments, surrounded by the love and support of their families and friends.
Instead, it has become subjected to a barrage of speeches that do little more than stroke the ego of those behind the microphone.
Let’s reclaim graduation ceremonies for what they should truly be about: the graduates, their achievements, and their futures.
Instead of subjecting graduates to spectacles of self-aggrandizement, let’s create occasions where their accomplishments take center stage, with their futures embraced with hope and excitement.
It’s time to ditch self-serving speakers and refocus our attention on the true stars of the day – the graduates themselves.
(A related article may be found here.)
Jacob Lane is a Republican strategist and school choice activist. He has worked for GOP campaigns at the federal, state and local levels, as well as with various PACs and non-profits. Read Jacob Lane's Reports — More Here.
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