Friday, May 30, 2014

Those Great Commencement Speeches

I always enjoy this time of year in which we celebrate the successes of our students, friends, and children, through various graduation ceremonies.

Some graduations, both high school ones and college ones, are still taking place and it is fun to follow the various commencement speakers, the coverage of their speeches, and even to learn from some of them.

Although I am back in Sweden, I am still following many graduation events and speakers and trying to capture any pearls of wisdom.

The reporting on commencement speakers starts several months before the actual graduations and this year I especially enjoyed the list of Most Notable Commencement Speakers for 2014 compiled by Business Insider. Alright, I am a bit biased since both UMass Amherst's speaker, Governor Deval Patrick, made the list as well as my husband's undergrad alma mater's, Lafayette College's, which featured the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller. The fomer mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg,  also made the list and has been quite busy, just recently having given a provocative speech at Harvard. He is also the scheduled commencement speaker for Williams College.

Interestingly, two originally scheduled female commencement speakers, former Secretary of State Condi Rice, and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, who were to speak at Rutgers University and Smith College, respectively, ultimately, because of demonstrations, never spoke at the commencements. Bloomberg at his commencement speech at Harvard assailed the lack of suppiort for the diversity of ideas at universities, and even pointed out what happened at my alma matter, Brown University, when his former police chief, Kelly, tried to speak there a few months ago.

And, when it comes to great high school commencement speakers, just the other day, the 2014 Deerfield Academy graduation took place. When my daughter graduated from this outstanding school I could not resist blogging about it and posted a lot of photos. Even former President Bill Clinton made a suprise appearance in a video.  The 2014 Deerfield Academy commencement speaker was H. Rodgin Cohen, a renowned financial lawyer. Interestingly, on a USAir flight to Washington DC a few years ago,  I sat next to "Rodge," if  I may. I had noticed this very well-dressed gentelman wearing a bowtie in the boarding area for our flight at Bradley Airport and, honestly, I was hoping that he would be seated to me. (I tend to have amazing seatmates on many of my flights, and this was another one of those cases).  I got the window seat towards the front of the plane and Rodge sat right next to me in the aisle seat. Before long, a conversation ensued, with business cards exchanged. When he told me that he was a member of the Deerfield Academy (DA) Board of Trustees and had gone to Harvard (including Harvard Law), we talked almost nonstop. He even mentioned Ms. Carole Pennock, the Head of the lower school of The Bement School, who had also served on the DA board (and was a wonderful influence on my daughter and her cohort when they went to Bement).

Mr. Cohen is the senior chairman of the top law firm Sullivan and Cromwell. And his financial regulatory expertise  in major financial crises was even featured in the HBO film, *Too Big to Fail."

Well, would you believe, now, every year since our meeting on that flight, I receive a Season's Greeting card from Mr. Cohen!  His DA speech is now posted and it is inspiring - the importance of being quirky and bonding with even Lehman Brothers thrown in!

I have given 3 commencement speeches, thus far, one at the Isenberg School, and two, in Sweden. In preparing these, it was a great opportunity to reflect, to acknowledge, and also to give back. Thanks!

For anyone interested, links to my speeches, and other writings, including those in the popular press, can be accessed here.

Congratulations to all the graduates!