Graduation speeches can be pretty boring. But recent controversies are making this year an exception, with some graduates getting speeches perhaps more topical than they were expecting.
So far this commencement season, the big story had been the rash of campus-leftist activism that prompted former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau to cancel their appearances.
The threats of protest caused quite a stir in the press -- "Young people are the worst," one Daily Beast columnist wrote -- but at Haverford College outside Philadelphia on Sunday, one speaker gave it to students with both barrels for chasing off Birgeneau, who had been scheduled to speak there.
Former Princeton president William G. Bowen called students "arrogant" and "immature" for demanding that Birgeneau thoroughly apologize for UC Berkeley police's brutality against student protesters in 2011. Birgeneau declined and decided not to appear.
"In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter-arguments," Bowen told the students, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Bowen also said he thought Birgeneau should have come anyway.)
The remarks drew a standing ovation, although one faculty member who had supported the demands, Maud McInerney, told the newspaper that “it is really unfair to shame students at their graduation. It’s a captive audience. That’s an abuse of power.”
Meanwhile, at Yale University on Sunday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry took a moment in his Class Day exercises speech to knock L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
"You are graduating today as the most diverse class in Yale's long history," Kerry said in a joke-filled speech. "Or, as they call it in the NBA, Donald Sterling's worst nightmare."
That drew some knowing laughs and then a round of applause. (According to campus statistics, 38% of Yale's students are nonwhite.)
Sterling, of course, was recently banned for life from the NBA after a recording surfaced of him telling a close confidante not to post photos of herself with black people or bring them to Clippers games.
Then there's the newly ousted editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, whose firing last week raised allegations of newsroom sexism -- especially after the New Yorker reported that she had been getting paid less than her male counterparts.
The New York Times has denied those allegations, and did so again on Saturday, saying that her latest raise had boosted her salary more than 10% higher than her predecessor's. But so far the newspaper has been unable to dispel the nasty publicity.
What does that have to do with graduation season?
Abramson is expected to make her first public remarks since the firing in a speech at Wake Forest University in North Carolina on Monday. A Wake Forest spokeswoman confirmed to the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that Abramson would be there, saying: "It's on."
“I cannot think of a better message for the class of 2014 than that of resilience,” Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch said in a statement last Thursday confirming Abramson's appearance, after she had backed out of a separate commencement speech at Brandeis University's commencement. “Jill Abramson’s accomplishments speak for themselves, and I am confident she will have an inspiring and timely message for our graduates.”
Perhaps it will even be memorable.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times