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Nora Ephron’s Famous Talk At Wellesley’s Graduation, 1996

Twenty years ago, writer and director Nora Ephron gave the commencement speech at Wellesley, her Alma Mater. Her words were ;ife lessons and still resonate, including this line: “We weren’t meant to have futures, we were meant to marry them.”

President Walsh,Nora Ephron trustees, faculty, friends, noble parents…and dear
class of 1996, I am so proud of you. Thank you for asking me to speak to you today. I had a wonderful time trying to imagine who had been ahead of me on the list and had said no; I was positive you’d have to have gone to Martha Stewart first. And I meant to call her to see what she would have said, but I forgot. She would probably be up here telling you how to turn your lovely black robes into tents. I will try to be at least as helpful, if not quite as specific as that.

I’m very conscious of how easy it is to let people down on a day like
this, because I remember my own graduation from Wellesley very, very well, I am sorry to say. The speaker was Santha Rama Rau who was a woman writer, and I was going to be a woman writer. And in fact, I had spent four years at Wellesley going to lectures by women writers hoping that I would be the beneficiary of some terrific secret–which I never was.

And now here I was at graduation, under these very trees, absolutely
terrified. Something was over. Something safe and protected. And
something else was about to begin. I was heading off to New York and I was sure that I would live there forever and never meet anyone and end up dying one of those New York deaths where no one even notices you’re missing until the smell drifts into the hallway weeks later. And I sat here thinking, “OK, Santha, this is my last chance for a really terrific secret, lay it on me,” and she spoke about the need to place friendship over love of country, which I must tell you had never crossed my mind one way or the other.

I want to tell you a little bit about my class, the class of 1962. When we came to Wellesley in the fall of 1958, there was an article in theHarvard Crimson about the women’s colleges, one of those stupid mean little articles full of stereotypes, like girls at Bryn Mawr wear black. We were girls then, by the way, Wellesley girls. How long ago was it? It was so long ago that while I was here, Wellesley actually threw six young women out for lesbianism. It was so long ago that we had curfews. It was so long ago that if you had a boy in your room, you had to leave the door open six inches, and if you closed the door you had to put a sock on the doorknob. In my class of, I don’t know, maybe 375 young women, there were six Asians and 5 Blacks. There was a strict quota on the number of Jews. Tuition was $2,000 a year and in my junior year it was raised to $2,250 and my parents practically had a heart attack.

How long ago? If you needed an abortion, you drove to a gas station in Union, New Jersey, with $500 in cash in an envelope and you were taken, blindfolded, to a motel room and operated on without an anesthetic. On the lighter side, and as you no doubt read in the New York Times magazine, and were flabbergasted to learn, there were the posture pictures. We not only took off most of our clothes to have our posture pictures taken, we took them off without ever even thinking, this is weird, why are we doing this?–not only that, we had also had speech therapy–I was told I had a New Jersey accent I really ought to do something about, which was a shock to me since I was from Beverly Hills, California, and had never set foot in the state of New Jersey… not only that, we were required to take a course called Fundamentals, Fundies, where we actually were taught how to get in and out of the back seat of the car. Some of us were named things like Winkie.

We all parted our hair in the middle. How long ago was it? It was so long ago that among the things that I honestly cannot conceive of life without, that had not yet been invented: panty hose, lattes, Advil, pasta (there was no pasta then, there was only spaghetti and macaroni)–I sit here writing this speech on a computer next to a touch tone phone with an answering machine and a Rolodex, there are several CDs on my desk, a bottle of Snapple, there are felt-tip pens and an electric pencil sharpener… well, you get the point, it was a long time ago.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Crimson had this snippy article which said that Wellesley was a school for tunicata–tunicata apparently being small fish who spend the first part of their lives frantically swimming around the ocean floor exploring their environment, and the second part of their lives just lying there breeding. It was mean and snippy, but it had the horrible ring of truth, it was one of those do-not-ask-for-whom-the-bell-tolls things, and it burned itself into our brains. Years later, at my 25th reunion, one of my classmates mentioned it, and everyone remembered what tunicata were, word for word.

MRS. Degree

My class went to college in the era when you got a masters degrees in teaching because it was “something to fall back on” in the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario being that no one married you and you actually had to go to work. As this same classmate said at our reunion, “Our education was a dress rehearsal for a life we never led.” Isn’t that the saddest line? We weren’t meant to have futures, we were meant to marry them. We weren’t meant to have politics, or careers that mattered, or opinions, or lives; we were meant to marry them. If you wanted to be an architect, you married an architect. Non Ministrare sed Ministrari–you know the old joke, not to be ministers but to be ministers’ wives.

I’ve written about my years at Wellesley, and I don’t want to repeat myself any more than is necessary. But I do want to retell one anecdote from the piece I did about my 10th Wellesley reunion. I’ll tell it a little differently for those of you who read it. Which was that, during my junior year, when I was engaged for a very short period of time, I thought I might transfer to Barnard my senior year. I went to see my class dean and she said to me, “Let me give you some advice. You’ve worked so hard at Wellesley, when you marry, take a year off. Devote yourself to your husband and your marriage.” Of course it was stunning piece of advice to give me because I’d always intended to work after college. My mother was a career woman, and all of us, her four daughters, grew up understanding that the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was as valid for girls as for boys. Take a year off being a wife. I always wondered what I was supposed to do in that year. Iron?

I repeated the story for years, as proof that Wellesley wanted its graduates to be merely housewives. But I turned out to be wrong, because years later I met another Wellesley graduate who had been as hell-bent on domesticity as I had been on a career. And she had gone to the same dean with the same problem, and the dean had said to her, “Don’t have children right away. Take a year to work.” And so I saw that what Wellesley wanted was for us to avoid the extremes. To be instead, that thing in the middle. A lady. We were to take the fabulous education we had received here and use it to preside at dinner table or at a committee meeting, and when two people disagreed we would be intelligent enough to step in and point out the remarkable similarities between their two opposing positions. We were to spend our lives making nice.

Many of my classmates did exactly what they were supposed to when they graduated from Wellesley, and some of them, by the way, lived happily ever after. But many of them didn’t. All sorts of things happened that no one expected. They needed money so they had to work. They got divorced so they had to work. They were bored witless so they had to work. The women’s movement came along and made harsh value judgments about their lives–judgments that caught them by surprise, because they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, weren’t they? The rules had changed, they were caught in some kind of strange time warp. They had never intended to be the heroines of their own lives, they’d intended to be–what?–First Ladies, I guess, first ladies in the lives of big men. They ended up feeling like victims. They ended up, and this is really sad, thinking that their years in college were the best years of their lives.

Why am I telling you this? It was a long time ago, right? Things have changed, haven’t they? Yes, they have. But I mention it because I want to remind you of the undertow, of the specific gravity. American society has a remarkable ability to resist change, or to take whatever change has taken place and attempt to make it go away. Things are different for you than they were for us. Just the fact that you chose to come to a single-sex college makes you smarter than we were–we came because it’s what you did in those days–and the college you are graduating from is a very different place. All sorts of things caused Wellesley to change, but it did change, and today it’s a place that understands its obligations to women in today’s world.

The women’s movement has made a huge difference, too, particularly for young women like you. There are women doctors and women lawyers. There are anchorwomen, although most of them are blonde. But at the same time, the pay differential between men and women has barely changed. In my business, the movie business, there are many more women directors, but it’s just as hard to make a movie about women as it ever was, and look at the parts the Oscar-nominated actresses played this year: hooker, hooker, hooker, hooker, and nun. It’s 1996, and you are graduating from Wellesley in the Year of the Wonderbra. The Wonderbra is not a step forward for women. Nothing that hurts that much is a step forward for women.

The Glass Ceiling

What I’m saying is, don’t delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth. Don’t let the New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you–there’s still a glass ceiling. Don’t let the number of women in the work force trick you–there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents.

Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don’t take it personally, but listen hard to what’s going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: Every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: Get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn’t serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you–whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don’t have the alibi my class had–this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: Unlike us, you can’t say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead. Twenty-five years from now, you won’t have as easy a time making excuses as my class did. You won’t be able to blame the deans, or the culture, or anyone else: you will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa.

So what are you going to do? This is the season when a clutch of successful women–who have it all–give speeches to women like you and say, to be perfectly honest, you can’t have it all. Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands. And this is something else I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn’t know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever. We have a game we play when we’re waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper.

When I was your age, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy. Whatever those five things are for you today, they won’t make the list in ten years–not that you still won’t be some of those things, but they won’t be the five most important things about you. Which is one of the most delicious things available to women, and more particularly to women than to men. I think. It’s slightly easier for us to shift, to change our minds, to take another path.

Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee who made a specialty of saying things that were famously maladroit, quoted himself at a recent commencement speech he gave. “When you see a fork in the road,” he said, “take it.” Yes, it’s supposed to be a joke, but as someone said in a movie I made, don’t laugh this is my life, this is the life many women lead: Two paths diverge in a wood, and we get to take them both. It’s another of the nicest things about being women; we can do that. Did I say it was hard? Yes, but let me say it again so that none of you can ever say the words, nobody said it was so hard. But it’s also incredibly interesting. You are so lucky to have that life as an option.

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women. Thank you. Good luck. The first act of your life is over. Welcome to the best years of your lives.

Nora Ephron’s Commencement Talk at Wellesley, 1996

Nora Ephron.jpgPresident Walsh, trustees, faculty, friends, noble parents…and dear class of 1996, I am so proud of you. Thank you for asking me to speak to you today. I had a wonderful time trying to imagine who had been ahead of me on the list and had said no; I was positive you’d have to have gone to Martha Stewart first. And I meant to call her to see what she would have said, but I forgot. She would probably be up here telling you how to turn your lovely black robes into tents. I will try to be at least as helpful, if not quite as specific as that.

I’m very conscious of how easy it is to let people down on a day like
this, because I remember my own graduation from Wellesley very, very
well, I am sorry to say. The speaker was Santha Rama Rau who was a woman
writer, and I was going to be a woman writer. And in fact, I had spent
four years at Wellesley going to lectures by women writers hoping that I
would be the beneficiary of some terrific secret–which I never was.
And now here I was at graduation, under these very trees, absolutely
terrified. Something was over. Something safe and protected. And
something else was about to begin. I was heading off to New York and I
was sure that I would live there forever and never meet anyone and end
up dying one of those New York deaths where no one even notices you’re
missing until the smell drifts into the hallway weeks later. And I sat
here thinking, “OK, Santha, this is my last chance for a really terrific
secret, lay it on me,” and she spoke about the need to place friendship
over love of country, which I must tell you had never crossed my mind
one way or the other.

Continue reading Nora Ephron’s Commencement Talk at Wellesley, 1996

What Commencement Speakers Might Have Said

Commencement speeches 2012.jpgNow that commencement speakers have finished their work, what messages did they dispense to the class of 2012, graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression? Mostly generic words of anodyne idealism: “Live your dream,” “go change the world”–conventional bromides that graduating classes have heard since college life began. Few speakers gave the new graduates advice that they actually could use in the current dismal job market: don’t hold out for that ideal job–take the best one you can find and get to work; remember, paying work of any kind has much to teach you, about managing your time, getting along with difficult bosses and customers, and learning by observing management how to run a business. But most speakers fell back on clich

Two Commencement Talks That Got Attention

David McCullough and Fareed Zakaria.jpgThe Boston Globe recently reported that the journalist Fareed Zakaria delivered very similar if not identical addresses this commencement season at Harvard and at Duke. Zakaria was perfectly within his rights to imitate himself on the podiums of higher learning. He did nothing wrong. The article reporting his “sin” was intended, however opaquely, to rap him across the knuckles for lack of consideration that even if his speech was not unique for each occasion, his audience was. And there is the rub. In his defense, Zakaria noted that “These are students from two very similar institutions graduating within two weeks of each other. I don’t see how I could have come up with two completely different speeches without giving one group a second-rate talk. I’d rather come up with the same important message I think they need to hear.”

Continue reading Two Commencement Talks That Got Attention

A Very Short Commencement Speech from the Wizard

Posted by Carl L. Bankston III

From the site ‘Can These Bones Live’

Now that commencement season is here, I’m reminded of some of my favorite quotations on the handing out of credentials. I think of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who once announced, “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” Bradbury would have been a great commencement speaker.

Continue reading A Very Short Commencement Speech from the Wizard

It’s Commencement Protest Season

Since colleges and universities are coming to the end of the 2011-2012 school year, that means it’s time for commencement protests to begin. Here are some commencement speakers and the reasons given for the irritation they provoke among students:

Continue reading It’s Commencement Protest Season

Protesting the Blameless—A New Trend at Commencement Speeches

Sparks were few at this season’s commencement speeches, and so were remarks inspiring much enthusiasm or objection. Protests arose, as they always do, whether of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at Monmouth College (for state Education budget cuts), Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at Brandeis (for assorted Israeli actions), or Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (for sub-prime lending and assorted financial misdeeds), but most remarks have been tame. Yet the speeches are almost besides the point – you don’t have to have done anything objectionable to draw a protest this year; sins of omission seem just as powerful inspiration for petitions as real deeds on campus this year.
Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, drew pickets from pro-immigration activists. Their ire was partially directed at the department’s continuation of a Bush administration policy which permitted the cross-checking of arrestees’ fingerprints with a federal immigration database, but most of the protest appeared to be directed at the Arizona immigration law – which, last anyone checked, Napolitano had nothing to do with. Typical of this was a seech given by Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Services Center, who urged that: “Secretary Napolitano must take legal action against oppressive local and state immigration policies, including Arizona’s SB1070, immediately. Secretary Napolitano can show the leadership that we need to stop racial profiling, stop the separation of families, and end the criminalization of immigrant workers,” said Amaya. The Los Angeles Times reported:

As Napolitano spoke to the graduating class, the demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Andrew Carnegie building, chanting “Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can) and “Obama escucha, estamos en la lucha” (Obama, listen, we’re in the struggle). The protesters were also waving signs that read “Alto AZ” (Stop Arizona) and “No mas racista” (No more racism).

Continue reading Protesting the Blameless—A New Trend at Commencement Speeches

Controversy in Commencement Talks

Professor Sandra K. Soto’s commencement speech at the University of Arizona caused national commotion—she bitterly attacked the new Arizona immigration law—but not much discussion about whether controversial issues are appropriate in such talks. One common opinion, raised repeatedly in Professor Soto’s case, is that invited speakers should not impose their politics on a captive audience. Another is that invited speakers should not be expected to steer around their deeply held beliefs and just stick to the usual dreadful cliches—climb very mountain, today is the first day of the rest of your life, etc. The strongest reason for inviting any speaker is often that he or she stands for something and carries the message that conviction is important.
But there are rules, or should be. Much of a good commencement talk should be about the graduates, and speakers should remember that they are a minor act on a program about student success. Professor Soto passed this test easily. She talked at length about and to the new graduates. But on another test, she did not do nearly so well: speakers who take controversial stances should frame the issue fairly, and leave room for graduates and parents in the audience to disagree without being considered backward or bigoted. Her remark that the law “is considered the strictest anti-immigration legislation in the country” overlooks the fact that the measure is no stricter than existing federal law, and that the measure is anti-illegal immigration, not anti-immigration. Soto’s comment that “racial discord is being provoked not solved” is a bit much for a law not yet put into effect, and supported by three out of four Arizonans who have an opinion (72% in favor, 24% opposed, 6% no opinion–Rasmussen). It may be that the professor was misled by the “faculty-lounge effect”— as a group, college professors are so sure the law is terrible that when emerging from the academic cocoon, they often fail to notice that a huge majority is on the opposite side.
A good deal of soul-searching followed the commencement debacle in 2003 at Rockford College in Illinois. Anti-war activist and New York Times reporter Chris Hedges essentially ignored the graduates and launched into an unusually grating speech on America’s faults and how pleased he was that the U.S. had lost in Vietnam. The enraged crowd screamed in protest and twice someone pulled the plug on the sound system. Perhaps fearing a riot, the president of the college stepped in and stopped the speech. So it’s fair to say that the speaker, the audience and the president all behaved badly. The popular blogger James Lileks wrote that there’s nothing wrong with an anti-war speech, “but such a speech needs to persuade. It needs to draw the audience close, make eye contact. Crack a joke, wax colloquial, opine a bit, then bring it all back to the grads.” Most of all, controversial speeches need basic civility and an awareness that the day is about the students.

Banks Are Bad Things—Don’t We All Know That?

It’s retro-Sixties season at Syracuse University, as students hold protests and firm up plans to hold even more protests against the university’s plan to have James Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co, speak at commencement on May 16. “Chase, “Chase, Chase, go away, don’t come back any day!” Syracuse students chanted at a “Take Back Commencement” rally on April 16–that is, when they weren’t chanting, “Jamie Dimon’s got to go!” As the Huffington Post reported, the 100 students at the demonstration also “held signs, played the tuba, banged pots, pans, plastic jugs, danced to anti-Dimon songs and chanted anti-JPMorgan slogans.”
The reason for the anti-Dimon fervor, which includes a petition signed by nearly 900 Syracuse students and alumni asking the university to rescind his invitation to speak? Well, it seems that JPMorgan Chase is a bank, and we all know that banks are Bad Things. Didn’t banks play a role in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown of 2008 that generated the current recession? As Ashley Owen, a Syracuse senior who was one of the petition signers told the Wall Street Journal: “He’s a figurehead of an industry that has failed the American people in a lots of ways.”
The irony of which most of the Syracuse protesters seem unaware is that “figurehead” is about all the ammunition they’ve got in their battle to have Dimon dis-invited on graduation day. In fact, JPMorgan Chase was the only large Wall Street financial institution to weather the current financial crisis relatively unscathed, posting profits throughout every federal quarter including a $3.3 billion profit for the first quarter of this year. Under Dimon’s leadership JPMorgan started selling off its sub-prime portfolio—mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and home equity loans involving high-risk borrowers—as early as the fall of 2006, when few other institutions (think Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, washed out to sea in the sub-prime tsunami) worried about a growing percentage of delinquencies in the loans underlying the financial instruments they traded.

Continue reading Banks Are Bad Things—Don’t We All Know That?

Several Commencements Worth Sleeping Through

In the midst of a profoundly boring commencement season, there have been only a few graduation speeches worth noticing:

– Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder, delivered commencement addresses at Case Western Reserve and UC Berkeley. He doesn’t seem to have, well, written the latter speech. Descriptions of the “improvisatory” speech involved terms such as “off the cuff” and “rambling.” Wired was more direct: “it sucked.”

– Michael Mukasey responded to criticism of his appearance at Boston College Law School for a commencement address by… delivering a long defense of torture memos. How better to mollify opponents? Jerry Springer took a different approach to criticism of his commencement appearance at Northwestern Law School:

“To the students who object to my presence – well, you’ve got a point. I, too, would’ve chosen someone else..”
But in an attempt to soften the pain, let me stipulate to the facts. You are right. I am an imperfect being – (on my talk show, more colorful language might be employed) – and I feel hardly qualified to tell you what to do with your lives.”

Oh really?

Springer’s address involved, for a commencement speaker, an unusual amount of self-abnegation (then again, one could see why). Most speakers followed the far easier path (blazed by Chris Hedges, among others) of airing fiery opinions, then urging students to act upon them.

– Bianca Jagger delivered what seems to have been an excrutiatingly long speech at Simmons College. She began with talk about her work in Latin America, but devoted the core of her address to condemning the Iraq War, 9/11 and the “erosion of civil liberties” and “climate chaos.” What could a peroration say after that?

“We must hold our politicians accountable for their decisions. We must fight for universal respect for human rights and dignity, the abolition of the death penalty, and the prohibition of torture. We must call for worldwide nuclear disarmament…”

– Jessica Lange, speaking at Sarah Lawrence, built to a lengthy Vietnam-Iraq comparison, and the observation that

“We are living in an America that in the last seven and a half years has waged an unnecessary war, established prison camps, condoned torture, employed corporate armies, eliminated the right of habeas corpus, practiced extraordinary rendition, and believe me, this is only a partial list – I had to keep myself in check.

I don’t wish to dwell on the misery caused by this administration, but that legacy is being passed down to you. It is a heavy burden to inherit and will require tremendous dedication and hard work to put it right again. You must determine if we are going to measure ourselves on the basis of military might and economic power or if there is perhaps something deeper – more essential in our national character – that needs to be awakened.

We must commit ourselves, wholeheartedly, to the pursuit of peace, equality and justice.”

Just a few commands to take out into the world with you. I’d be happy if any of the current crop of speakers made slightly more frequent acknowledgement of the fact (as John has suggested before) that they were speaking to graduating students, not political devotees.

Who Should Speak At Catholic Colleges?

The overwhelming majority of American catholic colleges won’t be honoring public figures that flout church teaching at this year’s commencement exercises, according to the Cardinal Newman Society, the conservative Catholic watchdog group. Of the hundreds of men and women who will be awarded honorary degrees by the nation’s 225 Catholic universities this month, the Society labels only 6 as dissenters on key moral issues (abortion, as always, seems to be the biggie), down from 24 in 2006 and 13 in 2007, according to the Boston Globe.

As the Globe’s Michael Paulson points out, pro-choice catholic politicians are the most obvious snubs. Rudy Giuliani, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy, all regulars on the commencement speaker circuit, will not be addressing a catholic college’s graduating class this year.

Many catholic schools, particularly the smaller, more conservative institutions, seem to have genuinely taken to heart the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops advice from 2004 that “the Catholic community and the institutions which are a part of our family of faith should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

For schools like Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Boston College, which have large, politically diverse student bodies and faculties, as well as the prestige to lure big names if they want to, the move away from politicians as speakers may also be borne at least in part from a desire to avoid partisan rancor that detracts from the communal nature of commencement. Boston College, in particular, has drawn ire from all directions over its choice in partisan honorees in the past. Extending invitations to socially liberal honorees like Warren B. Rudman (1992) and Janet Reno (1997) has been panned by more conservative voices within the church, while attempts to honor Bush administration officials like Condoleezza Rice (2006) and Michael Mukasey (Law School, 2008) have angered pacifist Jesuits on campus and the more left-leaning lay faculty. It’s not surprising that this year the school opted for the very non-controversial historian David McCullough.

Continue reading Who Should Speak At Catholic Colleges?

Indiana: The Return Of The Puzzler

Will Shortz, the famous crossword puzzle editor for the New York Times, gave the commencement address last week at his alma mater, the University of Indiana. Using his trademark cleverness and brain-taxing ambiguity, Shortz has brilliantly transformed the modern crossword. Early in the week, his Times puzzles are fairly easy (Monday, Tuesday) but each day’s puzzle gets a bit harder, and by Friday and Saturday, the crosswords are maddeningly hard. Here are three of my favorite Shortz clues: “rural strip” (answer: Lil Abner, “digital monitor” (answer: manicurist) and “They include M, L and X L” ( the answer was Roman numerals). After listing some famous Indiana graduates (Jane Pauley, Kevin Kline, Dick Enberg, Tavis Smiley, Robert Gates, Wendell Willkie) Shortz quizzed the new graduates about prominent former students.

Here is his commencement quiz:

1) Hoagy Carmichael — composer, pianist; best known for writing the melody to “Stardust,” graduated from IU in 1926 with a degree in what?

a. Mathematics
b. American Literature
c. Music Education
d. Law

2) Robert James Waller Jr. — author of the best-selling novel The Bridges of Madison County, graduated in 1968 with a degree in what?

a. Business
b. Engineering
c. Dentistry
d. Art History

Continue reading Indiana: The Return Of The Puzzler

Antioch: Gone

Antioch College, of fame for strident sexual interaction policies, and Abu-Jamal commencement speeches, has ceased to be.

American colleges are not in the habit of disappearing, but then, there are few colleges anything quite like Antioch, as Peter Wood today notes in What Happened To Antioch? on the site today. In a universe of left-inclined colleges, Antioch was really something tremendous:

So a plain and simple answer to “What happened to Antioch?” is that the college is no longer financially viable. The administrators admit that Antioch’s $36.2 million endowment cannot cover the shortfalls. We live, however, in a nation where over 16 million students attend college and in which many colleges that have pretensions to academic seriousness have long waiting lists. In this environment, colleges and universities can get away with offering programs of tic-tac-toe levels of triviality; and they charge tuitions equivalent to buying a new Prius twice a year – with no trade-in.

In other words, for a college to go under, it is not enough for it to be intellectually bogus; it has to take its misfeasance to a spectacular level. It has to get parents, in effect, to what might be called the “anyplace-but-Antioch” moment; and it has to persuade a fair number of otherwise curious students, “Maybe I’ll enlist instead. How bad can Baghdad be?”

Read the full account of Antioch’s curious history.

Identity Group Commencements

Commencement weekend is hard to plan at the University of California, Los Angeles. The university now has so many separate identity-group graduations that scheduling them not to conflict with one another is a challenge. The women’s studies graduation and the Chicana/Chicano studies graduation are both set for 10 a.m. Saturday. The broader Hispanic graduation, La Raza, is in near-conflict with the black graduation, which starts an hour later at 5 p.m. this Sunday.

Planning was easier before a new crop of ethnic groups pushed for inclusion. Students of Asian heritage were once content with the Asian-Pacific Islanders ceremony. But now there are separate Filipino and Vietnamese commencements, and some talk of a Cambodian one in the future. Years ago, UCLA sponsored an Iranian graduation, but the school’s commencement office couldn’t tell me if the event is still going. The entire Middle East may yet be a fertile source for UCLA commencements.

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