- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Every year, college seniors across the country findthemselves trapped in the last boring lecture they will ever have to hear as a student: their graduation commencement speech.But with a little luck and a hefty fee, some of the nation’s graduating classes will hear speakers who should have something interesting, maybe even inspiring, to say.

People just want “two or three nugget-teenies to leave the day with, and preferably ones on the inspiring side,” said Peter Smith, editor of the book “Onward! 25 Years of Advice and Inspiration from America’s Best Commencement Speeches.”

A commencement speech, Mr. Smith said, should not last more than 20 minutes and should never contain blatant campaigning or political commentary.

The worst commencement speeches, he said, are those that are political and partisan, and therefore oh-so-boring.

In the 1970s, several members of the Nixon administration presented particularly bad speeches on public policy, he said.

“They were incredibly unsubtle about their partisanship and talked about policy to these poor kids in their mortarboards trapped outside in 90-degree weather with no water,” he said.

Over the past several years, commencement speakers have reflected the nation’s mind-set. In 2002, about eight months after the September 11 terror attacks, a New York City firefighter, a police officer and an engineer who worked on the World Trade Center were among the speakers.

Last year, the roundup reflected an election-year theme. Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, financier George Soros, former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former Vice President Al Gore were among the Democrats who spoke at commencement exercises. Educational institutions also chose White House officials, including President Bush, Karl Rove, first lady Laura Bush, and Cabinet members Colin L. Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald H. Rumsfeld and Tom Ridge.

With the presidential election a distant memory, Democrats who participated in the campaign seem to be keeping their words of wisdom to themselves this year. The exception is former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, who will speak at three commencement ceremonies this month.

Former Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland also will be among the Democrats speaking.

Though Mr. Bush and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, have several commencement engagements, no colleges have announced Mr. Rove, Miss Rice or Mr. Rumsfeld as graduation speakers.

Making graduation day into a political event this year, says Mr. Smith, would not reflect the nation’s mind-set.

“Even the shadow or the hint of [politics] this year wouldn’t be appropriate,” he said. “That would kidnap the spirit of the day. The last thing kids want to hear is someone from the EnvironmentalProtection Agency or this and that government official making an ad for the administration.”

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