Wesleyan Commencement Speech

When I went to Bethie’s graduation last month, Anna Quindlen was the commencement speaker. (I know this is not exactly timely, but it took me a while to get my thoughts into a coherent shape) I was really excited to hear her, actually I was more excited about Anna Quindlen than I would have been about last year’s speaker, Obama. All due respect to my Twitter buddy Barack, but I was deeply affected by Object Lessons long before I even knew Obama’s name. I bought Blessings at the bookstore in Wangfujing last year, when English books were a rare and expensive luxury.

Quindlen’s speech at Wesleyan was a call to action, it was what every new graduate should hear. It was a reminder that finishing college is more than a piece of paper and a pile of student debts. It was great to be around New England liberals again. People who think global warming is real, our natural resources are finite, and it would be great if all Americans had healthcare.

One of the hardest things about being in North Carolina is the chitchat minefield. I often hear that global warming is a natural phenomenon, nothing to do with us, or that last year was so unseasonably cold that climate change can’t possibly exist. It felt really nice to be surrounded by educated and liberal young people, especially as they were being called upon to go forth and save the world!

Quindlen also praised this generation for changing attitudes towards gender and racial relations,  and wow, Quindlen is a great public speaker. But my idol suddenly had feet of clay when Quindlen threw in the obligatory Simpsons reference, that hallmark of a professor trying to show they’re young and hip. Don’t show me you’re hip, professors, show me you’ve read more books than I’ve heard of.

In the midst of calling on the new graduates to solve illiteracy problems, build a lifestyle not based on debt, and stop climate change, she exhorted them to make movies that weren’t comic book spin-offs. I believe this was meant as a reference to Wesleyan’s film school, but it sounded as through trashy movies are on a par with the destruction of the environment. So Wolverine and Watchmen aren’t great art (not like The Simpsons) but I don’t know if a predictable plot is on quite the same level as finite resources.

There was another odd moment, when in the midst of praising social change and technical progress, Quindlen stopped to question whether Twitter would be “dopey haiku for the mini-mind”. I’m so pleased that Twitter is on the scene now, taking the pressure off blogs. All the complaints once thrown around about blogs are now directed towards Twitter, as if the desire to connect with others and to share experiences is something frivolous and new.

You write about your daily life and your thoughts on the internet? How narcissistic! No one cares what you think! Why would anyone read that! And what about internet privacy? Anyone could come by and read it! I can’t believe you’d waste time writing and sharing your thoughts!

I’m going to be happy when Flutter comes out and Twitter gets a rest.

The speech really captured how I see Wesleyan. Liberal, world-changing, brilliant, moving, with just a tiny little reminder that Wes is better than plebs with stupid hobbies.

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0 Responses to Wesleyan Commencement Speech

  1. Gabrielle says:

    I can’t remember who spoke at my graduation, but if I could have voted on who I wanted, I would have either picked Stephen King or Cookie Monster. It would have been a tough call.

  2. Meg says:

    I don’t remember who spoke at mine, either, but Eric had the guy from Monster.com speak at his. He (Monster guy not Eric) had dropped out of UMass to start Monster and become insanely wealthy and successful. He received his honorary BA, turned to all the kids who’d stuck with school and gave a speech that sounded something like: GOOD LUCK W/ YOUR STUDENT LOANS, SUCKERS! Don’t forget to use Monster.com as you look for a job!

  3. stick says:

    I don’t remember who spoke at my graduation, but he said, “Me not *take* cookies, me *eat* the cookies.” (I was the guy from monster.com or something.)

  4. Anonymous says:


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