When I graduated from The Ohio State University 21 years ago, we did not have a celebrity speak at our commencement ceremonies … probably because the Internet, television, films and radio had not yet been invented, so there were no actual celebrities roaming the Earth.
There were, however, politicians available, but none of them came to speak at my graduation — for which, it bears mentioning, I am eternally grateful.
Truth be told, I don’t remember the name of the guest speaker at my graduation. I seem to remember he was fairly eloquent and amusing — and even had some good words of advice for us as we headed out into the world — but I couldn’t tell you his name if you offered to pay me. He was some sort of prominent businessman in the Columbus community — and, I’ll go out on a limb and guess a prominent donor to the university — whose name I’ll never remember.
And that’s OK. Because as far as I’m concerned, my graduation wasn’t about him. It also wasn’t about some B-list celebrity or a politician looking to advance his or her own political agenda in front of a captive audience.
As far as I was concerned, my college graduation was about myself, my fellow graduated, our family members and our friends who stood behind us and supported us the past four (or five, or six or … well, you get the point) years on our journeys toward our diplomas. No politician or celebrity helped me through my college career, so why should I care about what they have to say at my commencement ceremony.
No one will ever talk about the commencement speaker at my college graduation — nor should they. My family members and friends showed up to watch me graduate, not listen to some celebrity shill his or her new movie or some politician stump for reelection.
I’m not against commencement speeches in general. I just think schools would probably be better served using graduating students, key faculty members or, at the very least, prominent alumni from the school to speak at graduation ceremonies.
For instance, when my little sister Jenny graduated from Ohio State, Bill Cosby was the guest speaker at her graduation. For starters, Bill Cosby speaking at any school’s graduation seems like a really bad idea in hindsight. I’m guessing any time you invite a celebrity or politician to speak at a graduation, there’s a better-than-average chance your are going to regret it at some point down the road when he or she finds himself embroiled in some sort of legal action and/or controversy.
Much more than that, however, I couldn’t for the life of my figure out what affiliation Bill Cosby had with The Ohio State University. To the best of my knowledge he never attended undergraduate or graduate school there. As near as I could figure, the closes affiliation he had to the university was that many graduates probably ate Jell-O pudding as a kid.
Bill Cosby didn’t love The Ohio State University. He had never spent any significant amount of time there. Bill Cosby was there to tell a few jokes, get a few chuckles from the crowd — most of whom probably just wanted to grab their diplomas and get on to the graduation parties — and collect a big paycheck.
If Ohio State was insistent on getting a celebrity to speak at graduation, I would have much rather heard from someone like Archie Griffin, a guy who actually graduated from the school.
Of course, as much as I dislike the thought of celebrities speaking at graduations, the thought of politicians speaking at graduations is even worse. Presidential speakers may actually be the worst of them all — and I don’t particularly care to which party they belong. Several years ago a president spoke at Ohio State’s graduation and, for security reasons, each graduate was allowed just four tickets to hand out to guests.
Four tickets? Really? That wouldn’t even get one-fifth of my family through the door.
I guess I’m just a firm believer that college graduations should be about the graduates, not the graduation speaker. If you insist on having one, let it be a graduating student, faculty member or noted alumni.
It will get everyone off to their graduation parties that much quicker.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong