I am no fan of ceremony—especially ones that trap you for hours in a false setting of formality—and I am equally no fan of what is often a hollow part of the graduation ceremony experience, the graduation speech.
I am a fan of one of the masters of graduation speech as satire and brilliance, Kurt Vonnegut.
At the 2016 Furman University graduation, however, I witnessed two wonderful addresses—one by a student and one by a university board member. I invite you below to read the transcripts:
Regardless of the activity, the key questions are these: Who will you call (or text) to invite? Who will accept the invitation and come? Who will not? And, in each case, Why?
Will you invite, for example, any of the following people who may work at your company, or who may be enrolled with you in same graduate program, or whom you otherwise see frequently and with whom you are cordial, but who are not part of your circle for personal social interactions: the woman who wears a hijab? The man who speaks with a thick foreign accent and is sometimes difficult to understand? The woman whom you saw wearing a “Black Lives Matter” tee shirt? The guy who has a buzz cut and likes to wear cowboy boots?
Imagine the answers if you are working, affirmatively and purposefully, to achieve a deep, first hand, understanding of the self-defining perspectives of other people.
I realize that interacting with people who appear to be different makes most of us uncomfortable and uneasy. “What will my friends think?” “How will they react to these unfamiliar other people?” “How will they react to me for inviting these other people?”
President Davis also suggested in her inaugural address that, “maybe it’s time to progress from the idea of service and service learning to equal partnerships and mutual stewardship of place.” Put simply, we must become women and men who are not just for others, but with them. Our work and service aren’t acts of resume building and self-congratulation; they are the foundation of relationships between equals.