Even though not everyone in the Class of 2011 was graced by the presence of Tom Hanks or Toni Morrison at graduation this year, commencement speeches have been a popular topic lately. It is graduation season after all. But from "The Today Show" segment on Memorial Day to Amy Poehler's speech going viral on the web, it seems hotter than ever. One speech that will forever live in my memory, although it has not gotten much press, was that of Ray LaHood, the Secretary of Transportation, who spoke at Boston College on May 23. Yes, it was my commencement, but that is not the only reason that Mr. LaHood's words really "spoke to me."
In early May, I volunteered to write an article on the Her Campus Boston College branch updating our senior readers on Boston College's commencement speaker. Everyone had been hoping that James Franco, who had visited campus earlier in the year, would give our speech. So our Her Campus BC team thought it would be nice to give some facts about our actual commencement speaker so that our senior collegiettes™ would have an idea of who was sending them off. It was honestly a quick write, and I thought little of its publication.
Let's fast forward to the commencement ceremony. As my friends and I sat groggily in the plastic chairs, we watched Mr. LaHood climb the pedestal. Meanwhile, the kid next to me pulled out a copy of The Catcher in the Rye while others stopped trying to hide their snores. I attempted to listen intently, even though my eyelids were heavy as he began by talking about how nervous he was to give our commencement address. He listed the past three commencement speakers: two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner David McCullough, documentary filmmaker and Emmy winner Ken Burns, and CEO of General Electric Jeffrey Immelt. "He isn't helping himself," someone whispered behind me.
He told us he wasn't usually one to read the reviews before seeing the movie, but admitted he did a bit of research to see what the general reaction was to his election as speaker. Claiming he stumbled upon the blog of one of our own he asked, "Will Allison Lantero please stand up?" I felt my jaw drop to my knees. I slowly raised myself out of my chair and waved to the 20,000 eyes staring at my face on the jumbotron. Then as I went to sit back down he told me "we weren't done," and proceeded to read the introduction and conclusion to my fast facts article where I referred to the reaction as "sighs of disappointment" and asserted we hoped the speech would be short. I was standing and filmed on the jumbotron for the entirety of this passage, so all I could do was play along, shrugging jokingly when he read the part in my introduction that asked, "Who is Ray LaHood?" and nodding, along with the rest of my classmates, at the bit about wanting a short speech. He told me that he was, in fact, Ray LaHood, and he promised to be brief. I sat back down to notice that Catcher in the Rye had been forgotten, and no one seemed to be sleeping anymore.
He kept his promise of brevity, speaking to us of the history of Boston and allegations of our generation as uncivil. He also asserted, "When you can tweet, or blog, or post to Facebook from a device that fits in your pocket, it's easy to forget that your digital words can be far more callous and cutting than your verbal ones. People regularly type things on the Web that they would never say in person. In the process, they take technologies that hold enormous possibility for good and use them for ill." At this passage I could feel eyes boring into me searching for reaction, and I just laughed. Although I agree with his sentiment, I did not think he was referring to my words.
At the end he confided that he had no idea who his commencement speaker had been 40 years ago, and he was sure that most of us would forget him by 2051. He then added, "Well maybe Allison will remember." A I gave him a thumbs up in agreement, he said, "I love you, Allison," words that were written on the jumbotron for all to read.
Read the rest of the article at Her Campus.com
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