Double the graduation speeches

There’s a lot of wisdom to gain from two commencements.

by Eric Best

Unlike most  graduating seniors, I had the chance of both walking at my own commencement ceremony and seeing my twin brother shake a dean’s hand and receive his own degree holder. I got to see two commencement speeches, which means twice the age-old wisdom — and twice the age-old quotes. As the University of Minnesota’s next class of freshman students begin making their way to orientation next month, I’d like to try to pass along any knowledge I can from my double dose of graduation.

The two speeches I saw could not have been more different. A jovial R.T. Rybak spoke to more than 1,000 College of Liberal Arts graduates, including myself, in Mariucci Arena, saying that he had accidentally deleted his speech 30 minutes before arriving. Eric Jolly, president of the Science Museum of Minnesota, addressed a packed crowd of College of Biological Sciences seniors at the new Northrop Auditorium. 

However, the two echoed similar ideas: University students can’t trust in their degrees alone to be successful; your degree is just a tool along your way to the future.

“Your degrees are not a certification of knowledge,” Jolly said, “but a license to learn.”

“If you give your fresh minds the power to believe, you will see opportunities on the horizon no longer visible to the rest of us,” Rybak said.

As a journalist, I can see this in action. In my first week as a graduate, I’ve had to use my degree in ways I never did as a student.

While the commencement speeches I heard had a light (Rybak) tone and a serious (Jolly) tone, it’s important not to take them too seriously. Yes, they’ve played important roles throughout history, like President Lyndon Johnson’s address on the Great Society to University of Michigan’s 1964 graduating class, but “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” star Charlie Day gave a commencement speech at Merrimack College last month. Let’s hope we can get a speech like that from an alumnus (Ron Perlman? Garrison Keillor?).

Like many commencement speeches, I’ll leave you with a quote. Rybak told us: “The only people who won’t thrive in this new world are those who see something new and turn back. That’s not you.”