Tho’ts on Graduations and Commencement Addresses

Well – here it is – graduation season again.  And what would graduation be without commencement addresses! I just returned from the graduation of Eugene Jeng, my godson.  His mom broke her leg recently and his dad lives in Taiwan so neither were able to attend.  That left me to represent the family.  It was a long drive to Bloomington, Indiana, 662 miles each direction to be exact, but well worth it.  While there I had the pleasure of meeting Eugene’s College Internship Program (CIP) leader, Karen Thomas, and his academic adviser, Mendy Kossmann, as well as Mendy’s rising HS freshman daughter, Jacque.

Jacque, Karen, Eugene, Mendy

Jacque, Karen, Eugene, Mendy

I was really proud of Eugene who received his Associate Degree in General Studies from Ivy Tech Community College  of Indiana, Summa Cum Laude no less.


Eugene Jeng

Ivy Tech Community College of IndianaIvy Tech Community College of Indiana

During the drive I had time to think about the graduations I’ve attended (or not) and the commencement addresses.  I was surprised at what I remembered and what I did not remember.  Regarding my personal graduations here is what I recall:

1959 Hopkinsville (KY) High School – No recollection of who was speaking but I do recall that we were encouraged to be more like thermostats than thermometers, the obvious point being that we should make a difference and not simply monitor the situation (or so I suppose).

1963 University of Missouri (Mizzou), BS – Did not attend.

1969 FBI Academy – I don’t recall our speaker but I’m certain we were cautioned against embarrassing the Bureau.

1974 The George Washington University, MS – Did not attend.

1978 The Department of Defense Polygraph Institute – I don’t remember our speaker but I’m confident we were told to use our newfound skills to enhance the capabilities of our law enforcement agencies.

1988 The National War College of the National Defense University – I don’t recall the speaker but we were admonished to use what we had learned to enhance our national security posture in the military services and federal agencies we represented.

I was honored to be asked to be the commencement speaker for a graduating class at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute and also for the graduating class of the FBI’s graduate level Advanced Polygraph Studies Program at the University of Virginia.  I remember what I said at those commencement addresses and still have my notes (somewhere).  My bet is that not one of the graduates who were there for my speech remembers me or anything I said.  At least that probably means I didn’t embarrass myself, or the Bureau for that matter.

Other graduations that I attended and that readily come to mind are:

Thatcher’s (1983)  and Pat’s (1988) graduation from Springfield High School.  All I recall from either of those was that at Thatcher’s graduation the class valedictorian started his speech with the comment: “Yes, I’m the guy who scored 1600 on the SAT.”  At the time acing the SAT was an amazing accomplishment.

Thatcher (2008) graduated from the Fairfax County Police Department Auxiliary Police Officer (APO) program (and has since volunteered thousands of hours as a sworn APO)served as an APO.  Chief of Police David Rohrer gave the graduation address.  I remember most Chief Rohrer’s praise for the value of the APOs to his department.

Col David Rohrer Fairfax County PD

Col David Rohrer
Fairfax County PD

Auxiliary Police Officer uniform patch

Auxiliary Police Officer uniform patch

Thatcher conducting sobriety check at DUI Checkpoint

Thatcher conducting sobriety check at
DUI Checkpoint

Chelsea’s (2008), Stephanie’s (2009), and Melanie’s (2010) graduation from Chantilly HS bring to mind no memory of speakers or comments made.

Chelsea’s (2012) graduation from Virginia Tech featured commencement addresses by Senator Mark Warner and FLOTUS Michelle Obama.  I don’t recall anything Senator Warner said  but I do recall Ms. Obama describing how her father, a blue collar worker for the City of Chicago, had sacrificed for her to be able to get her education.  There was a secondary commencement address for Chelsea and her classmates who graduated with degrees in psychology.  I don’t recall who the commencement speaker was for that ceremony.  I do recall him devoting much of his speech to justifying why anyone would want to major in psychology.

Cody graduated from the Huntington Ingalls Industries Apprentice School, think Newport News Shipyard, in 2013.  Retired Navy Adm. Tim Keating served as the commencement speaker and shared some of his personal experiences with NNS-built aircraft carriers and submarines and their impact on national security.  He described the graduates as “secret weapons,” because their skills are unmatched in building quality naval vessels.

Apprentice School Graduation

Apprentice School Graduation

Apprentice School Newport News Shipyard

Apprentice School
Newport News Shipyard

Eugene Jeng’s graduation was a really fun affair and was unique because it featured a musical opening  and later a closing number by the “Gospel Gurlz.”  And, amazing as it may seem, the Gurlz actually sang a song that mentioned, now get this, Jesus.  Way to go Gurlz.  There was really no guest commencement speaker.  The “charge to the class” was given by the Ivy College president who urged the grads to: 1 keep learning, 2 contribute to their community, and 3 “Wear Ivy,” which I thought was a rather thinly disguised commercial for the grads to encourage others to attend Ivy.

Conclusion: Well there are a couple of possibilities.  The first and most obvious  is that this blogger has a really bad memory.  I will own that.  In fact, I’ve recently discovered that I’m not too good at remembering things that happened to me recently and besides that my short term memory seems to be failing.  The second conclusion is that for most of us we’re really pretty much more interested in getting to the graduation refreshments and activities than in paying much attention to the substance of the speaker’s remarks.  In fact, we pretty much know what the speaker will say, at least the essence of the speech, and so basically tune-out the speaker and tune it to the cute chicks who may be in the audience.  (Actually, I just threw that in to see if Shirley reads these blog postings.  If you’re reading this Shirley, sweetheart, hi.  And, really, you’re the only girl who catches my attention.)

Before leaving this topic I want to mention three more commencement addresses of interest; one actual address, one which a columnist would have given had she been asked,  and one hypothetical.

First there is what is described as the most famous commencement address of all times, but which was not actually delivered at a graduation….

Mary Schmich

Mary Schmich

In June 1997 Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, published what seemed like a perennial cliché.  The column contained all the usual commencement admonitions (don’t worry about the future), obvious good advice (respect your elders), and useful banalities (floss). But it also included advice that could be a license for immorality (enjoy your body; use it every way you can). But, central to her would be speech was one critical piece of advice: wear sunscreen.

The second commencement address, one that I really, really appreciated, was the one delivered by J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of best-selling fantasy books.  Rowling’s commencement address was to the graduating class at Harvard in 2008.  The entire speech was wonderful.  But, the parts I remember best were her introduction when she described how the anxiety she had suffered for weeks leading to the address had helped her lose weight .  She also described how “failure” can actually result in unexpected benefits.  I hope you will take the time to watch her speech which is available on YouTube.  Click HERE for Link to the J. K. Rowling commencement address at Harvard

J. K. Rowling

J. K. Rowling

The third commencement address is the hypothetical speech I mentioned.  Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition wrote about what a biblical address might sound like and who might deliver such a speech.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter

Carter concluded that there were several candidates from the New Testament , e.g., Peter and Paul,  but that they would be more likely to deliver a sermon than a graduation address.  After eliminating a range of Old Testament types including the prophets, Carter settled on what seems like an obvious choice – the man who could be the best commencement speaker in history: King Solomon.

King Solomon

King Solomon

Solomon had all the attributes you look for in a commencement speaker. He was fabulously wealthy, accomplished (his biography as well as three of his written works are included in the best-selling book of all time), worldly-wise (“I have seen everything that is done under the sun. . .”), and able to provide suitably aphoristic advice for young people (he even wrote a wildly popular advice book).

Here is what Carter speculates King Solomon would have said:

People often ask, “What’s the key to success?” My father—who was quite a success himself—gave me some sound advice on the subject: “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses.”

One of the most important things I know is this: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

I knew a kid once who was poor but wise. He went from being in prison to become a king. Led a great number of people. But now no one remembers him—at least not fondly. He was better off being poor. What happened to him? Well, after he got in power he no longer knew how to take advice. The lesson: Listen to advice and accept instruction, so that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Young men, admire the beauty of your wife; young women, admire the beauty of your husband. (I recommend comparing a woman’s hair to a flock of goats and a man’s hair to a raven.)

Don’t love sleep.

I had a dream once that God would give me whatever I asked. If you ever have a similar dream, here’s what I recommend: Don’t ask God to give you wealth or a long life. Ask for an understanding mind and the ability to discern good from evil.

Keep your tongue and you’ll keep out of trouble.

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done. Sure, you may have iPhones and Starbucks now. But when it comes down to it, there is nothing really all that new.

Buy truth, and do not sell it. Buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding too.

Aim to get rich slowly. Wealth gained hastily will dwindle; wealth gained little by little increases.

Go out into the grass and find some ants. Watch what they do. Notice how even this insect works hard preparing for the future? You should do the same.

Don’t ever say, “Why were the former days better than these?” Wise people never ask that question.

Even fools who keep their mouths shut seem wise. So if you want people to think you’re intelligent, close your lips.

Don’t marry someone who doesn’t share your faith. Trust me, it only leads to heartache and pain.

Remember when you were a kid and your dog died? That’s going to happen to you too. Did your dog go to heaven? I don’t know.

Don’t take everything people say to heart. You know that many times you yourself have cursed others.

When you vow a vow to God, pay it as soon as you can. God takes no pleasure in fools, so pay what you vow.

Don’t spend too much time drinking alcohol. It may go down smooth, but in the end, it’ll bite you like a snake.

Wine is a mocker, liquor a brawler.

The more you know, the more the world breaks your heart.

Never trust a woman who would accept half a baby.

Wear sunscreen.


About ronfurg

Former naval officer, federal investigator, forensic scientist, senior executive service member and pastor. In retirement serves as volunteer and life group leader at New Life Christian Church ( Devoted to beautiful wife, kids and grandkids. Looking forward to the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
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One Response to Tho’ts on Graduations and Commencement Addresses

  1. Karen says:

    Nice thoughts! Such wisdom, sprinkled with light-hearted humor!

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