Speaking out: Unorthodox commencement orators
I log on to the Syracuse University commencement speaker selection website and scratch my head in concentration. Who should I pick? So much is riding on this. I could suggest anyone … so it’s either Mr T., Carrot Top or Mickey Mouse.
Every May SU thrusts a fresh crop of seniors into the real world, and the ritual of commencement culminates an epic, four-year struggle. The whole Syracuse community comes together to see the seniors off, and hear a special guest give a speech.
A year ago the university began allowing students to go online and make suggestions as to who will speak at the ceremony. The site gives students the opportunity to nominate just about anybody.
‘We want Oprah for our year,’ said Christine Lefebvre, a junior communications design major. ‘But I’d also like to see Snoop Dogg.’
A selections committee compiles the nominees from the website and, after making a few changes, submits a list of 15 candidates to the chancellor. Regardless of who students request on the website, the chancellor gets the final say. Many people would like to see a movie star or famous comedian give the speech, but celebrities can be expensive and unreliable.
‘As long as he actively looks for input from the students, that’s good,’ said Eric Oberland, a sophomore in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
So just in case the celebrities ditch us, I’ve come up with some novel suggestions for this year’s commencement speaker and crafted sample speech for each candidate – so the selections committee can have a better idea of what to expect.
Remember those evenings spent driving around harassing herds of freshmen on Euclid? One of those happy little sprites could give a kick-ass commencement speech.
‘Looking around, I see a lot of familiar faces. That guy in the back let me drink stale keg beer at his house the first week of school. I’ll never forget my ride in the ambulance at 3 a.m., and how you told the cops I was like that when I got there. You over there, if you hadn’t told me that I could bribe my TA, I’d still be on academic probation. I see the girl who told me it was really cool to carry my lanyard around at parties is here. It still hurts where the frat boys took turns punching me in the kidneys. Oh, all the wonderful memories. I really wish I could stay, but I have a class in Carnegie. The entrance is at the top of the stairs, right?’
Food Services Worker
You see them every day, but how much do you really know about the friendly folks behind the counter at the dining hall? If they were to speak at commencement, they’d have a lot more to say than just ‘Have a nice day.’
‘It’s nice to see you all here today. I’ve watched you go through every aspect of Syracuse life from my post at the dining hall. I’ve seen more people fail at picking up hotties on the wrap line than I’d care to admit. And I swear, I’ll bitchslap the next person who leaves silverware on their tray. You’ve all been through so much at SU, and I’m amazed you survived long enough to graduate with what we’ve been feeding you. I guess you really can develop an immunity to laxatives.’
How about the time you tried to change your major, and the secretary flipped you the bird and told you she was on her lunch break? She could look deep inside herself and deliver an emotional oratory.
‘When I was growing up I wanted to be on Broadway. I used to dance in front of my mirror every day and dream the day I would be up on stage. Now I’m a bitter, resentful secretary. Go figure. You all are finally leaving this wonderful institution – the institution that stole my soul. Good for you. Before you go, though, I will leave you with some advice. Expect to be disappointed, because all of you who think you’re going to become architects, CEOs or movie directors will probably end up like me – collating copies for 8 hours a day.’
Even if the student body insists on having Carrot Top as the commencement speaker, Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw and the selections committee are always the voice of reason that insures a coherent speaker is selected.
‘They’ve done a good job in the past,’ said Audra Hopewell, a sophomore inclusive education and Spanish major. ‘We’ve had some high-name speakers.’
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