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Graduation Shame

Here is a story about a Conn College student plagiarizing a Barbara Kingsolver speech.

The article described the incident as particularly painful to many at the college who had deeply admired the idealistic, gutsy commencement talk and the student selected to give it, Peter St. John, who was described as the kind of person who was used in YouTube videos to promote the campus and whose picture graced admissions publications.

Two points. First, go read the Kingsolver speech. Once you do, you might find it mildly ironic that a student is being charged with plagiarism. It’s not that Ms. Kingsolver, a novelist, plagiarized her talk, but it comes right from the blogs of hot headed Earth First! members and Che Guevara fan clubs. Typical graduation speech fare. But if that’s what counts as being among the greatest graduation speeches of all time, then sign me up for a talk!

Second point. Is what the Conn College student did any worse than a commencement speaker making stuff up? Of course, no one in our student newspaper bothered to cover such a thing. Instead, folks on campus are busy trying to demonize this year’s graduation speaker, who just happens to run one of the most respected, admired, well-run, good places to work corporations in the entire world. I’ll bet you a nickel that his talk will not be rated among the 10 greatest graduation speeches of all time. And you know what, it doesn’t need to be. He does more good for humanity by operating even one of his stores, than the scores of graduation speeches put together ever have done.

Let me ask you a question, do you remember a single word from your commencement address? And if you did, has it materially changed the way you act? I think Doris Kearns Goodwin gave an address to us when I was at Amherst. All I remember is her googly eyes for the Administration of FDR, and how enamored she was to have learned about what happens in the inner circles of power. And that was at a time when I was sympathetic to such puppy love.

I love the idea of graduation in recognizing an accomplishment for the students – but it pains me to listen to all of us congratulate ourselves for how vital the work that we do is, and for the stream of platitudes we get to listen to for an entire weekend.

3 Responses to “Graduation Shame”

  1. Michael says:

    I didn’t attend my college graduation (or Masters). In college, it was $100 to attend, $25 to get the certificate in the mail and have the day off. I think I went fishing instead.
    But, from what I can gather, Obama did essentially the same thing with the “just words” speech. I guess we could have a big philosophical debate on intellectual property, but I don’t feel like typing that much.

  2. Speedmaster says:

    I could have used posts like this when I was younger. Wintercow, where the heck were you when I was an undergrad? Oh, probably still in high school. 😉

  3. Harry says:

    This gal teaches writing, right?

    I have to admit I did not read her speech carefully. I did not have the time. It reminded me of one of those I attempted to correct, but would have written “see me” after a few dozen flourishes with my red pen. I give the whole speech a C-, having reached the required length, which was not required to be that long, otherwise it would have been a C. Mind you, these are twelfth-grade high school standards.

    In response to the worthy Speedmaster, I can only say that I wish Wintercow, PhD and football star from Amherst would some day address my alma mater. (High-school, not run by the government.) Although he has a few more years to develop the same gravitas as, say, Ed Rendell, I think he will be able to deliver an inspiring address. I would suggest, “How I got into Amherst, and then met my wife” as being a subject many would remember.

    I can’t remember who spoke at my graduation from Trinity. He was someone important to the state. It was not Tom Dodd, Chris Dodd’s pappy, thank goodness.

    My parents were happy, though, as I was when my daughter graduated years after. Your kid is off your payroll, and on someone else’s. This is not an entirely selfish thought: your kid is happy to be an adult, to be free to forge her own way in the world.

    Meanwhile, I hope Wintercow enjoys his academic procession, when you get to wear your colorful robes with the furry bars on the sleeves. If you are lucky, students will shake your hand or embrace you.

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