Indiana humorist Kin Hubbard had a problem with graduation speeches: He felt that the really important stuff should be spread out over all four years, rather than saved up for one address at the end.
Hubbard’s fellow Hoosier, author Kurt Vonnegut Jr., also found fault with these final pronouncements: Vonnegut believed that graduation speakers are expected to impart wisdom on such weighty topics as the meaning of life, when in fact very few people — least of all the luckless individuals who find themselves on podiums every May and December — are qualified in that area.
I don’t know if Jeffco school board member Paula Noonan has any Indiana ties, but it’s likely she shares some misgivings about graduation speeches after delivering a recent commencement address for Dakota Ridge High School.
Noonan’s speech — a bit unfocused, rambling uncertainly from topic to topic, seeming to lack logical transitions — was not well received by a restive audience.
Admittedly, this was not Lincoln at Gettysburg. On the other hand, nothing Noonan said rose to the level of being inappropriate or shocking. She told a few too many personal stories, offered some humor that didn’t really hit its mark.
But Channel 9 and the Denver Post decided — during a week when the Jeffco school district approved a 2010-11 budget that will eliminate 70 teaching positions — that Noonan’s speech was the big news. A breathless report on 9News vilified the speech and then gave district Superintendent Cindy Stevenson her own public podium, which she promptly used to throw Noonan under the bus (no word on whether it was a yellow one).
The 9News report ended with a dramatic proclamation about graduations being all about “lessons learned.” As someone who has heard more than my share of graduation speeches, let me just say that graduations are chiefly about only one thing: moving on.
Let’s all cut a little slack to a speaker who had an off day, and move on ourselves.
Doug Bell is the editor of the Courier.