President Obama gave the commencement address at a high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan last night. It was a coup for the school – a prize won in competition with other eager student bodies anxious to book a graduation speaker who wouldn’t be forgotten by everyone as soon as the hats were tossed.
Being the commencement speaker has to be a mighty big challenge. Everything about your address is already known. Everyone knows the speech is about following your dreams. Everyone knows you’re going to salute the folks at home. And everyone knows that whatever you have to say is one of the last tedious lectures to endure before the students are set free.
That excited feeling in the air? It’s not for your speech, it’s for the end of your speech. Trust me, as soon as you start, there is a great hunger for anything that sounds like a concluding line.
Bill Clinton supposedly asked Chelsea what he should say at her high school graduation in 1997. Her reply – “Dad, I want you to be wise, briefly.”
Good advice, but how brief is brief enough? And how wise must one be?
Would a haiku do the job?
A haiku usually includes a seasonal reference and has just three lines.
Five syllables first.
A second line of seven.
And five to finish.
If I was giving the commencement speech at Haiku U., here’s how it would go.
When the speaker stops
Life begins for graduates.
Why delay the spring?
Would you have felt cheated by a commencement address haiku?
Would you like to try one? Be my guest.