Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Commencement speeches and big questions

We just finished the season for commencement speeches. They are inspirational and come with captive audiences of graduates who cannot leave until the end when they receive their degrees.

Back on May 17, 1982 I attended the Carnegie-Mellon University commencement and received my Ph.D. degree on a warm, sunny day in Pittsburgh. Carnegie-Mellon had followed their founder, that frugal Scot Andrew Carnegie, by not wasting any paper. Their diplomas measure just 7” by 9”. I couldn’t remember anything from the commencement speech, so I looked around the house and found I’d saved the program. It turned out they also had been too frugal to pay for a speaker.  

Recently there were several excellent blog posts about commencement speeches. On June 18th, at Moving People to Action, Conor Neil picked The Top 5 Commencement Speeches. One June 20th at Duarte Greta Stahl discussed The Secret Sauce of Successful Commencement Speakers. Also on June 20th, at Presentation Zen Garr Reynolds discussed one by James Ryan containing Five Essential Questions to ask Yourself. Those big questions were: 

1]   Wait, what?
2]   I wonder why/if?
3]   Couldn’t we at least?
4]   How can I help?
5]   What really matters?

A bonus question was:
6]   And, did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?

The list of Five Essential Questions (and a bonus one) reminded me of my favorite set of six big questions shown above in clouds. Those came from the science fiction television space opera Babylon 5 and are:

1]  Who are you?
2]  What do you want?
3]  Why are you here?
4]  Do you have anything worth living for?
5]  Where are you going?
6]  Who do you serve, and who do you trust?

The first one was asked by the Vorlons, and the second by their rival the Shadows. Mr. Morden, the Shadow operative on the Babylon 5 space station, asked Vir the second question. He got an answer he didn’t like, but that eventually came to pass. I mentioned those questions in a blog post on March 16, 2011 titled The joy of listening to Ice Breaker speeches.  

The other big question I had was what else does a university provost do - other than hand out the doctoral diplomas at the commencement ceremony?

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