2016-05-24 – Public oratory is pretty much disdained in this country. We don’t have time for it. Or we distrust it. We listen to sermons only if we show up to pray. And most of us don’t. We may show up for a political rally, but really just to make a statement. We’re not there to be challenged by a candidate’s words. We’re already voting for them and stand as props for video sound bites, cheering on cue. Or we’re there to protest and don’t listen at all. Besides, it’s all a pack of lies (supposedly). The only public speakers we listen to are comedians.
Except at commencement.
Or not. We really only go to a graduation ceremony to see our kids walk. We’re a captive audience. Yesterday, for me and my family, it was two-and-a-half hours in the sun in the middle of Iowa. My son Cal was walking in the 2016 Grinnell College Commencement.
There were four speakers.
Novelist Zadie Smith elegantly spoke, counter to the self-actualization spirit of any graduation day, in favor of immersing yourself in family and community. Republican Congressman Tom Cole from Oklahoma, Native American and honored alum, spoke, counter to the take-no-prisoners ethos of our national politics, in favor of compromise and civility. Jazz pianist Fred Hersch spoke of his path to success as a Grinnell drop-out and how his one semester had so illuminated his life. (If he could become so great with only one semester, imagine how great the graduates are destined to become after eight semesters!) Classroom teacher Claudia Swisher exhorted the graduates to write a thank you note to their favorite pre-college teacher. Then, it was the turn of the college president Raynard Kington who regretted stealing lines from the hit musical “Hamilton” to prove the importance of working within the establishment and the futility of revolution. I think he was warning the graduates of the danger of quoting material out of context. Or something like that.
Finally, the program reached the moment we were really interested in. The graduate walk. That spoke volumes. Without words.
Caelum Patrick Froikin, BA, Studio Art with honors and Music with honors.