The Graduation Speech

The university graduation scene this year seems to be in total disarray. The young people graduating from college are from the high school class of 2020, who had their graduating events and activities canceled by Covid. This year many private and public university graduations were disrupted or canceled by campus protests and administrative indecision. There have also been some notable and controversial graduation speeches. 

I have advocated for many years that no one should give a graduation speech unless they have personally sat through fifty commencement addresses by someone else. I say this on behalf of all students and their families. A corollary to this would be: a kindergarten graduation does not need a commencement speaker. Pop quiz: who was your high school, tech school, collegiate, or graduate school graduation speaker? Bonus question: What was the point of the address?

Last year I attended three graduation ceremonies. All three speakers were deeply experienced in the art of the graduation address: America’s teacher of the year, a long-termed local public official, and an Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice. They each were excellent, relatable, and moved rapidly to the point of their address.

My mother saved highlights from the lives of her children and grandchildren in large accordion folders. In the one marked for me she had saved my college graduation program as well as a newspaper article about the speaker. This is the only reason I now know that my college graduation speaker was a U.S. Representative and Baptist layman, John H. Buchanan. He was a last-minute substitute for Joseph Blatchford, Director of the Peace Corp, who had taken ill. Rep. Buchanan’s points were: “Follow the truth wherever it may lead you…change what is unjust or unworthy. Change does not mean ‘to destroy.’ Be a realist…and do something about the problem…but don’t be a problem yourself.”  Too many points for any graduation where everyone is seated on a football field, but on target for a meaningful life. I always find myself, on these occasions, thinking about our ultimate graduation. The Speaker will be our Lord, so I take the advice of Paul to Timothy to heart: Study (God’s Word) to show yourself approved unto God. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Live your best life. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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