It’s that time of year again when universities all over the United States are holding graduation ceremonies for their outgoing students. And what’s a graduation ceremony without a celebrity commencement speaker? We grade four of them.
President Barack Obama
President Obama’s Commencement Speech to Barnard Ladies College at Columbia University
May 14, 2012 – Mothers Day.
Celebrity factor: 10/10 Please. He’s the President of the United States.
Relevance: high. Barack Obama is a graduate of Columbia University. Class of ‘83
Speech Itself: 8/10 The Prez in parts appeared to treat it a little like a campaign address.
Highlight: Happens around the 19 minute mark.
“Until a girl can picture herself as a computer programmer or combatant commander she won’t become one. Until there are women who tell her ‘ignore our pop culture obsession over beauty and fashion and focus instead on studying and inventing and competing and leading’, she’ll think those are the only things that girls are supposed to care about. Now, Michelle will say, you know, nothing wrong with caring about it a little bit. You can be stylish and powerful too.”
Amen, Barack Obama!
General giddiness of crowd / volume of applause: 10/10 – the ladies of the graduating class of 2012 went wild for him.
Actress Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch gave the commencement address to Smith College, a private liberal arts school for women located in Massachusetts on May 20, 2012
Celebrity Factor: 8/10 Lynch has starred in a handful of comedies, (40 Year Old Virgin, Role Models) and is one of the Emmy-winning stars of Glee.
Relevance: Medium to high. Lynch herself did not graduate from the University but her wife did.
Speech itself: 10/10. It was absolutely outstanding. Lynch has expert comic timing. Every line was full of either wit or wisdom and often both.
Highlight: Where to begin? But if we had to pick, it happens around the 12 minute mark.
“This is not to suggest you should say 'YES AND' to every opportunity presented to you. Now, I know what you’re thinking, 'Jane, what about doing porno?' To which I say I am as surprised as you are that I was never offered that opportunity. But would I have said yes to that? What if life gives us the opportunity to rob a bank or a way to cheat on our taxes or say it offers us several hours in a row of life with the Kardashians...hours that we can never get back? To this I say: you can always trust that when you’re coming from your highest self and from your heart, you’ll know when you should say 'YES AND,' and when to engage the awesome power of 'no way.'”
But don’t be afraid to watch it from the 10 minute mark – a powerful meditation on life’s struggles that make us “stronger and softer ... and open our hearts to compassion”. Or fast forward to the 17 minute mark for her astoundingly good advice on relationships. Seriously, the woman is awesome.
General giddiness of crowd / volume of applause: 9/10 – and it was well-deserved – the speech was excellent.
Grade A +
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin delivered his commencement speech to Syracuse University, New York on May 13, 2012
Celebrity Factor: 8/10. Sorkin won the best screen-writing Oscar last year for The Social Network. Other writing credits include A Few Good Men and the TV series The West Wing – which he created.
Relevance: high. Sorkin is a graduate of Syracuse. Class of 1983.
Speech itself: 7.5/10. Sorkin is an expert in verbose idealism and rapid-fire humour - both shone through here. His delivery is also faultless. But, according to the Syracuse student newspaper, Sorkin lifted some of his lines from The West Wing and from earlier speeches. It’s his own work so it’s not like it’s plagiarism but still ...
Highlight: Hard to choose as the whole thing feels like a mini movie. But we’re going with this one – it’s very stirring and feels like something President Bartlett would’ve said to Toby.
“Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things you can do every day: Civility. Respect. Kindness. Character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolererance and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election you’re too good to think that people who disagree with you are your enemy. Unless they went to Georgetown, in which case they can go to hell.”
And, this is also gold
“You’re going to fall down but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”
The crowd went wild, (and we got goose bumps).
General giddiness of crowd / volume of applause: 8/10 But they could’ve cheered louder. That speech was a soliloquy.
Comedian Andy Samberg
A cast member of Saturday Night Live, Samberg was one of two commencement speakers at Harvard University on May 23. The other was Harvard alum and former US Senator Barney Frank, (just so you know they also went high brow).
Celebrity Factor: 7/10 Samberg’s digital short movies – including a few collaborations with Justin Timberlake - have made him well-known, but only with a younger demographic.
Relevance: Search us.
Speech itself: 5/10 Not great. There were three impersonations, (Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Wahlberg and Nic Cage) and only one of them was funny. In fairness, Barney Frank probably brought the wisdom and advice.
Highlight: ummmm ...
General giddiness of crowd / volume of applause: 5/10 The graduates giggled, their parents did not.