Delivering Commencement Addresses Has Become A Thankless Job

The current environment on college campuses is fraught with pitfalls. Delivering Commencement Addresses Has Become A Thankless Job Giphy

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No university graduation ceremony would be complete without a commencement address. Speakers, often with ties to the college, offer some words of wisdom intended to help students start the rest of their lives off on the right foot.

Aside from a little notoriety and maybe an honorary degree, there’s not a lot in it for the speakers. They’re typically not paid, and some of the most famous speakers certainly don’t need the limited exposure such a gig offers.

Nevertheless, there has never been a severe shortage of people willing to take on the task. But only time will tell whether the supply of commencement speakers will hold up in the current cultural environment.

Walking a fine line

While these speeches have traditionally been an opportunity for notable speakers to share thoughts and opinions, growing discord on many university campuses has made doing so a tricky proposition.

As David Murray of the Professional Speechwriters Association advised: “The idea of CEOs going out aggressively and speaking anywhere near this environment on campuses, it just doesn’t seem like the moment for them to be doing that.”

And it’s not just corporate execs who might be inclined to pass up an invitation.

Protests and backlash

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld received a smattering of boos and walkouts during his recent speech and Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker weathered criticism over the nature of his remarks.

While these and other examples came from the current graduation season, this has been an ongoing trend for several years. Murray noted that in 2020, those who sought to address ongoing civil rights protests were criticized from both sides. In business, this can be particularly damaging.

“Now they’re definitely in the phase of, ‘We comment on things that absolutely have essential bearing on our company and our business,’” he said.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee May 27th, 2024
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