Every year at this time I dream that I've been asked to give the commencement speech at some fine college or university. It would be my opportunity to offer the graduating seniors some thoughts and advice about what the future may hold. I would probably start off by congratulating them for their perseverance in earning a degree. I would then advise them to give every ounce of enthusiasm they have to every day they are lucky enough to be here. Two things I would stress above all else would be to work hard to keep a positive attitude and a sense of humor. Humor, especially, is essential to coping with all the challenges that come along.
A classic example of the role of humor can be found in a commencement speech given a few years ago by Joel Trachtenberg, president of the University of Hartford. I found his comments in the March 15, 1998, issue of the Speechwriter's Newsletter, and I'd like to share them with you:
"One of the requirements of every university president is that they offer at least one bit of sage advice. So get ready-here it comes!
"Very shortly you will be leaving the people who think they have all the answers-your instructors, professors and counselors-and going out into the world.
"In time you will meet other people who think they have all the answers. These people are called bosses. My advice is: Humor them.
"A little later you will meet other people who think they have all the answers. These people are called spouses. My advice is: Humor them.
"And if all goes well, in a few years, you will meet another group of people who think they have all the answers. They are called children. Humor them.
"Now life will go on. Your children will grow up, go to school, and some day they could be taking part in a commencement exercise just like this one. And who knows? The speaker responsible for handing out all the good advice could very well be you. And it would not be inconceivable that halfway through your speech, the graduate sitting next to your kid will lean over and ask, `Who's the old guy up there who thinks he has all the answers?'
"Well, thanks to the sound advice you're hearing today, and that I hope you'll pass on, you'll be able to say, `That's my father: Humor him!' "
Also in the same issue of the newsletter was a speech of a more serious nature. It's an excerpt that involves dreams, a subject I believe should be part of any commencement address. Following are the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoken at Lincoln University in 1961:
"As you go out today to enter the clamorous highways of life, I should like to discuss with you some aspects of the American dream. For in a real sense, America is essentially a dream, a dream as yet unfulfilled. It is a dream of a land where men of all races, of all nationalities, and of all creeds can live together as brothers. The substance of that dream is expressed in these sublime words, words lifted to cosmic proportions: `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' This is the dream.
"One of the first things we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It does not say some men, but it says all men. It does not say all white men, but all men, which includes black men. It does not say all gentiles, but it says all men, which includes Jews. It does not say all Protestants, but it says all men, which includes Catholics. . . ."
Two speeches. Two approaches. I hope other graduating classes are as lucky.
Dreams and humor go together,
Charles S. Lauer