A.C. Snow

Few recall graduation speakers’ gems

On MSNBC’ s “Hardball” talk show, Chris Matthews’ panel members were discussing graduation speakers and speeches.

Matthews asked panel members if they remembered their graduation speakers. A couple did, but all were vague on what the speakers spoke on.

With high school graduations upon us, I wonder how many young graduates will remember the name of their college graduation speakers, much less what gems of wisdom they shared.

I can’t remember who delivered the address at my UNC graduation. But I remember how pretty my 70-year-old mother looked, after one of her rare visits to the beauty shop.

I’m sure it was an act of love on her part to sit on the hard Kenan Stadium backless bench for the long program under the hot sun.

My sister, who accompanied her, said, “Don’t worry, Honey. She slept through the whole thing.”

I do remember that in 1950 we graduates received, along with our diplomas, the gift of a Holy Bible, a practice discontinued by the university years ago out of fear of being sued for violation of the First Amendment.

My wife doesn’t remember the identity of her high school or college graduation speakers either, but she remembers the excerpt from the Henry Van Dyke poem quoted at the high school reunion..

Four things a man must learn to do

If he would make his record true:

To think without confusion clearly;

To love his fellow man sincerely,

To act from honest motives purely;

To trust in God and Heaven securely.

The identity and words of current graduation speakers are even less likely to be remembered today. There are more distractions.

The graduates might be thinking about the next day’s mass migration of grads to Florida or closer-home beaches. Or they might be dwelling on the looming prospect of separation from a special girl or boy. Or they could be deeply absorbed in texting someone on their iPhones or reading the latest Facebook entries.

The only thing I remember from my high school graduation night is that the school Glee Club sang “The White Cliffs of Dover.”

“There’ll be bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow, just you wait and see. There’ll be love and laughter, and peace ever after, tomorrow when the world is free.”

Many male members of the class especially identified with the song. Pearl Harbor had been bombed only a few months previously. We knew we’d soon be joining the battle to bring the bluebirds back to England’s cliffs of Dover.

I don’t mean to stereotype all young graduates as inattentive, or to denigrate the quality of the speeches themselves.

But the law of averages guarantees that some young minds will wander, even if the graduation speaker is quarterback Tom Brady speaking on good sportsmanship in professional football.

Speakers at any occasion can’t be certain of what kind of response their elocution may elicit.

I remember an N.C. State event at the Erdahl-Cloyd Student Union many years ago.

As is customary, the speaker invited questions at the conclusion of his remarks. None came.

He again solicited inquiries and in the absence of response, he said in exasperation, “You mean I have come almost 2,000 miles to speak to you and you have no questions whatsoever?”

Much to the speaker’s delight, a student raised his hand.

“Sir,” he said, “Where did you come from?”


My friend Bob Mullinax calls them “Daddykins.”

I’m referring to favorite sayings or expressions passed on to us by our fathers through constant use.

My father, who never tolerated “cussin’” from his several sons, would himself yell “plagonit!” when things were going awry. The exclamation was an aberration of “A plague on it!”

Bob wrote recently that when a repairman could not solve his electrical problem, the man kept protesting repeatedly how sorry he was.

Bob finally said to the fellow, “As my Daddy used to say, ‘I appreciate your sorriness.’”

You readers might want to call up from your memory vault some of the Daddykins your fathers coined.

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com