Sign of the Times

Wheaton President Ronald Crutcher and Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick march with the Class of 2009.
Wheaton President Ronald Crutcher and Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick march with the Class of 2009.

Graduation season brings with it certain rituals: the donning of academic regalia, the hard-to-forget strains of Elgar, the anxiety over what happens next and the yearly survey of commencement wisdom.

Commencement speeches are a difficult species of address. It is an event at which a distinguished person has been invited to speak to an audience largely uninterested in what he has to say. As more than one speaker has noted, the graduates are merely waiting for said speaker to sit down so the ceremony can get to the point: the awarding of diplomas.

Nevertheless, the national media single out a dozen or so notable addresses each year. The New York Times published its round-up today and featured Wheaton’s commencement and its speaker, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, as one of the season’s most memorable addresses.

Here’s the quote that the editors of  Times chose to highlight:

Our youngest daughter, Catherine, graduated from high school a couple years ago. Sitting at her graduation, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between her journey and my own nearly 35 years earlier. I grew up on welfare on the South Side of Chicago in my grandparents’ two-bedroom tenement. I shared a room and a set of bunk beds with my mother and my sister, who is here today — so we would rotate from the top bunk to the bottom bunk to the floor, every third night on the floor. I went to overcrowded, sometimes violent public schools. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t love to read. But I don’t actually remember ever owning a book until I got my break in 1970, when I came to Massachusetts on a scholarship to boarding school. … Now, our Catherine, by contrast, has always had her own room, most of that time in a house in a leafy neighborhood outside of Boston. By the time she got to high school, she had already traveled on four continents, she knew how to use and pronounce the ‘concierge,’ and she had shaken hands in the White House with the president of the United States.

If you would like to read more,  a transcript of the entire speech, as well as an mp3 audio file ready for download, are available from the college web site.

Source: The New York Times