(from City Journal, summer 1998)
Like many people, I can deliver a competent public speech without much fuss. But a commencement address is different. I can’t recall stewing about a speech as much as I did before donning academic garb and talking at the St. John’s College graduation in Santa Fe on May 17.
After all, student tolerance for these speeches is at an all-time low. It was low enough in our day. Nobody my age seems to remember a single thought expressed at his or her own graduation–or even the name of the speaker. But in our time, the residue of traditional formality seemed to protect even the most pedestrian speakers, who seemed unembarrassed about doling out 15 or 20 minutes of solemn advice on the proper way to chart one’s life course.