Home / General / There Is No Free Speech Right to 30 Grand For Giving A Speech

There Is No Free Speech Right to 30 Grand For Giving A Speech


Michelle Goldberg makes a very smart point here:

Are the protests against commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients an example of the anti-liberal left?

I think there’s a difference between stopping someone from speaking and stopping a college from honoring them. Everybody gets to speak, but not everybody gets to be honored.

Not everyone deserves a $35,000 speaking gig. I think that Brandeis was right to revoke Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree. It was madness to have a Jewish institution putting its imprimatur on someone who has called for the massive repression and conversion of Muslims. It was their fault for not doing their due diligence and not realizing what she said.

What about commencement speeches? Are they invitations to speak, or are they honors that colleges are conferring?

These people aren’t being invited to share their ideas or argue their ideas. They’re being invited to solemnize an important occasion for these students. I don’t know how meaningful of a distinction that is, but it’s a difference.

You invite someone to be a commencement speaker presumably because you see them as a model and a potential inspiration for your students, whereas you invite someone to speak because they have something interesting and potentially provocative to say.

While I’m kind of uncomfortable with this trend, and I think that these protests should be maybe used sparingly, I think that being a commencement speaker has a certain honor attached to it that’s different from just being involved in the regular exchange of ideas on college campuses.

I was furious when [evangelical pastor] Rick Warren was invited to give the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration, even though I feel very strongly that Rick Warren has the right to say whatever he wants to say. I believe very strongly in Rick Warren’s freedom of speech. I also feel his presence at that event was an insult to a lot of Obama’s supporters.

Right. Free speech norms should mean that people just invited to give a talk on campus for no or modest fees should generally be allowed to speak. Ornamental degrees or commencement speeches are a completely different thing for the reasons Goldberg explains, and I’ve tried to as well.

This is Paul’s department, but aren’t most five figure commencement speeches essentially a racket? Left, right, or center, and no matter how smart the speaker, given the format it’s very difficult to craft a commencement speech that doesn’t fall in between “platitudinously unmemorable” and “terrible.” Large fees to speak at these ceremonies seem like another way for elites to ivory backscratch each other with student/taxpayer money.

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  • Not everyone deserves a $35,000 speaking gig. I think that Brandeis was right to revoke Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree. It was madness to have a Jewish institution putting its imprimatur on someone who has called for the massive repression and conversion of Muslims. It was their fault for not doing their due diligence and not realizing what she said.

    How is this any difference between her and Condi? Was Lagarde being paid, even if it was “going to charity”? Besides that, who wants to listen to people who are ruining the world? And your last sentence nailed it. It’s really just another elite racket.

  • Mudge

    Bill Cosby gave the commencement speech when my son graduated from Ohio State. It was fun and entertaining, certainly not “platitudinously unmemorable” and “terrible.”

    • NonyNony

      This year Ohio State had Chris Matthews (yes, from Hardball).

      It could be worse – a few years ago it was David Gergen. (Yes. That David Gergen. I got to sit through that one, and I’m honestly surprised that the audience didn’t rise up as a mass to shove the speaker’s mike up his pretentious rear end. His speech was memorable in that in summary it was “well kids, we adults have fucked up the world pretty badly. You kids get to clean up after us, if you can handle it. You slackers.”)

      (Ohio State has had Barack Obama, Susan Rice, John Boehner, Brian Williams, John Glenn, Bill Clinton and other political/media figures over the years. One good speech by Bill Cosby does not change the fact that the typical speakers that they get are ones that give at best an speech that’s memorable because it’s from a former or current President and at worst a terrible, terrible speech that’s memorable because the person giving it is just horrible.)

      • JustRuss

        I survived a John Glenn commencement speech once, it felt like a couple years of my life that I’ll never get back. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, can really bring it.

      • Pat

        We had Ray Bradbury. It was surreal.

        • Bill Murray

          did you find out the temperature at which academic robes burn?

      • Mudge

        Agreed. But they do not have to be bad. The university where my wife worked had Homer Hickam author of Rocket Boys a few years back. Also very entertaining, I heard. Commencement speakers are not required to be tedious.

    • witless chum

      I would consider protesting a Cosby speech, given the number of times he ends up paying off a woman who accuses him of sexual assault.

      I had the school’s basketball coach, who was fine, though I don’t remember a word he said. I do remember I got turned around coming into the venue and almost literally ran into him and his wife going running down the stairs to get to the bleachers on time.

    • Scott Lemieux

      You’ll note that I said difficult, not impossible.

    • Royko

      Yeah, he gave my commencement speech as well and was very good. I’ve also heard a commencement address from Stephen Colbert, and that was good, too.

      I think as long as you stick with Top Tier comedians, you’ll get your money’s worth. Although it might be better if they covered the speaking fee with a two drink minimum. ;)

    • I’ve had some interesting ones. Roland Burris for undergrad. At the time, he was presumably more or less done with politics although events years later would bring him back in a bizarre way.

      David Vitter – he was going through some rather public family problems (this was well after the prostitution stuff though) and had just bailed on a bid to run for governor. As a result, we got to listen to his stump speech. It was the worst. Nothing like getting sent off to the “real world” by some guy talking about investing in ports. Any chance I have to complain about it – like now – I bring it up. Wow, do I dislike that guy….

      I forget the last one’s name but he was Sec of Commerce under W. At one point he mentioned how it was such a wonderful privilege to work every day for ‘the greatest leader I have ever known’. This was in 2006 and I don’t think that did any favors for his credibility.

    • MAJeff

      Ken Burns gave the speech at my PhD commencement. I was front row, directly in front of him, and I don’t remember a word.

      It was rainy and cold, though, I do remember that.

      • Aimai

        I can’t remember who spoke at our Commencement, but I do remember that Kermit the Frog was our Class Day speaker.

      • The Amazing Spider-Man

        “It” being Ken Burns?

  • howard

    admittedly, i’ve hated formal occasions my whole life, but i didn’t even bother to attend my own commencement precisely because i couldn’t imagine how it would fall anywhere but from “platitudinously unmemorable” to “terrible.”

    and yes, of course it’s a frickin’ racket what speakers are paid in all kinds of settings, including, i’m sure, commencements.

    • JoyfulA

      Same here, and I would have skipped the high school one, too, had we not been warned that the actual diploma would not be available otherwise.

      But I did go to my sister’s, where the speaker (presumably unpaid) was the local congressman, who was before long indicted.

      • Lee Rudolph

        I liked that sentence better when I read the last three words as “long before indicted”.

    • Ahuitzotl

      Ive never understand Americans apparently burning need for formalism, ceremony and excruciating wastes of time.

  • pseudonymous in nc

    Large fees to speak at these ceremonies seem like another way for elites to ivory backscratch each other with student/taxpayer money.

    There’s the occasional one that isn’t, but Conan O’Brien’s only done two of those speeches in the past 14 years.

    If Vox wants to do something in line with its mission to explain, it might want to map this year’s commencement speakers to their agents or speaker bureaux and see what shows up in the data.

    • Anonymous

      It seems to me there’s virtually no reason at all to pay anyone to be a commencement speaker. If they can’t find anyone who will do it for free, the university president ought to be perfectly capable of giving a mediocre commencement speech.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        Hey, I would *love* to give a graduation speech on the urgent need to hunt down Bush/Cheney war criminals, try them in a Military Tribunal (“Khaki Kangaroos Represent, Yo!”) followed by the “Saddam dangle”.

        No payment required. It would be done just for love.

      • Warren Terra

        My inclinations are with you, but I can certainly see the logic that says that for a huge event that will involve tens of thousands of dollars spent on groundskeeping and security, it makes sense to spend a few tens of thousands more on a keynote speaker who will be entertaining or is so famous that you can guarantee the parents will be pleased.

        • Royko

          At my university, the incoming president decided he should give the commencement address. Graduating students were livid. It was the last year they didn’t get a big name (and big fee) speaker.

    • dmsilev

      I actually had Conan O’Brien as my high-school graduation speaker. He was an alum, and this was way back in the mists of time when he was a staff writer for the Simpsons so it wasn’t a huge reach for the school. It was a pretty good speech, though I’m afraid the details have faded with time.

      • nixnutz

        Speaking of the mists of time, I saw him give the valedictorian speech at his own graduation.

  • Aaron Baker

    Oh, you’re just bitter that no one’ll pay you five figures.

  • BoredJD

    ” Large fees to speak at these ceremonies seem like another way for elites to ivory backscratch each other with student/taxpayer money.”

    I think it’s more of a way for schools to show off to parents of current students, who then talk to parents of future students.

    • Aimai

      I don’t think its that–because I don’t think parents talk about this stuff much. Having just gone through a round of college applications I can’t think of anything less likely to come up in conversation than who spoke at someone else’s graduation. But there is a kind of caste thing going on, a potlatch of the vanities, in which the name brand of your school is enhanced by being the kind of place where the people who speak have recognizable names. Or rather, the kind of name recognition that passes for importance i.e. recognized by the widest number of attending parents for something not wholly dishonorable or infamous or dubious. Its like the chocolate that comes along with the bill, to sweeten it a bit. In the scheme of the rip off that is the college education it is probably just “in the noise.”

  • platitudinously unmemorable– is going to be my new band name

    • Snarki, child of Loki


    • low-tech cyclist

      Forget band names, that’s old hat.

      But blog names, OTOH…I’m thinking “LTC’s platitudinously unmemorable blog” will have to be the name of my next blog.

  • BoredJD

    You do see the same thing in the law school sphere, as lawprof has pointed out a few times before, with the practice of lower-tier schools hiring judges to teach classes to a group of students they wouldn’t hire to lick their boots, never mind as clerks.


  • Aimai

    I think the honor of the commencement speech should go to a student of the class, carefully chosen to represent the class. They might give a good speech or a bad speech but at least it would be relevant to the class as a whole. I fail to see the value in (some) (any) old codger or nominally famous person flying in to exhort the students at that late date.

    • toberdog

      Totally agree. We had a speech from Harry Blackmun. Good judge, boring speaker. We also had two classmates give a great speech together. Everyone loved their act.

    • NewishLawyer

      I’ve seen this done with very mixed results.

      At my undergrad, the senior class president gave a speech.

      For grad school, every school in the overall university got a student speaker as nominated by the school. Also pretty good.

      For law school, there was a student speaker who was selected via vote and audition. Only a few people showed up to vote and audition. The biggest class clown got the part.

  • Gwen

    Our commencement speaker was Kinky Friedman. I think that was a good choice.

  • Peter Hovde

    There is also no right to a captive audience who are showing up to get their diplomas and not listen to you. The entire practice of inviting outside commencement speakers, along with the granting of honorary degrees, should be abolished.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      I think that the students get their diploma, whether they show up at the ceremony or not. By mail.

      It’s more for the social event: family, friends, colleagues, celebrating.

      So if a college goes ahead with a sufficiently objectionable speaker, everyone should just boycott the event and hold an alternative ceremony somewhere else.

      Having Condi give her expensive speech to an empty hall, with only a handful of Young Republicans and Campus Nazi/Fascist Alliance members, would really embarass the hel out of their boneheaded admins.

      • Manny Kant

        But of course that wouldn’t happen. Most people want to go to their proper commencement, and even if they don’t much care for Condi, they’re not going to actually boycott on account of that.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          Depends on whether there’s an open bar, I think.

    • cpinva

      I would take this a step further.

      “There is also no right to a captive audience who are showing up to get their diplomas and not listen to you.”

      you have a right to speak, you do not have a right to speak anywhere you so choose. you also don’t have a right to not be criticized for your speech. these are apparently fine points quite lost on the right.

  • Wear sunscreen!

    • ploeg

      Indeed. One of the more memorable “commencement speeches” out there was not, in fact, a commencement speech. Which should tell you something about the general quality of commencement speeches.

  • Dave C.

    Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a pretty good commencement address.

  • Autonomous Coward


    The extra “e” is for extra free?

    • Lee Rudolph

      He left off the “-bird”, that’s all.

  • Gwen

    I personally cringe at the idea of the “antiliberal” or “illiberal” left (mostly because it means that my right-wing Facebook friends are going to crow about how liberals are terrible people, hypocrites, etc.).

    To be sure: I think there has to be recognition of the fact that bourgeois notions of liberty are routinely abused as an excuse to facilitate the upward transfer of wealth and privilege. In this case it’s quite clear; the defenders of the privileged will complain about how being denied an honor constitutes an assault on free speech rights, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of us never had a shot at getting the gig in the first place.

    (Surely, the fact that I, a humble tech support engineer of no real importance, was never even considered to give Harvard’s commencement speech — isn’t that an even more egregious infringement of free speech?)

    Anyway, it’s not illiberal to point out that freedom has limits — limits that conservatives are usually happy to point out apply to the rest of us.

    • Hogan

      Maybe we should have a national lottery for commencement speaking slots. That way everyone would have a chance.

  • TT

    The “lecture circuit” in general is one of the world’s most ridiculous rackets. I want in.

  • Bruce Vail

    When I was in school it was the practice of my alma mater to have the college president deliver the commencement address.

    Few of the students thought this was a good idea. Most students barely knew who he was (his job, after all, was to be off campus raising money from rich peoplw) and he wasn’t necessarily well-liked by those who did know him.

    Far better to have a leading member of the graduating class give the address. A $10,000-$35,000 honorarium to a TV personality or a retired war criminal is just obscene.

  • sleepyirv

    From my graduation, I remember with more fondness the convocation speech given by a professor than the commencement speaker, who was eyeing a run for state office. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as a good professor has a natural better understanding of undergrads and what they need to know than any random politico. The fact universities waste money on speakers is annoying but unsurprising. It’s just another way for administrators to earn prestige for themselves without actually providing any worthwhile service to the student body.

  • searunner

    We had Katie Couric while our rivals had Maya Angelou. I contemplated attending their commencement instead.

    • Alex

      Maya Angelou gave a fabulous commencement speech. Wise and worth listening to.

      • searunner

        I wouldn’t expect anything less. Couric’s was bland and completely unmemorable.

        • cpinva

          “Couric’s was bland and completely unmemorable.”

          not at all surprising, she’s apparently always been bland and unmemorable. my older brother went to bishop ireton, the all male version of st. Mary’s academy, which Katie and her older sister attended. my brother knew both of them, but only really remembered her older sister, from dances and other activities the two schools collaborated on. Katie was “nice”.

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  • Johnnie

    Last year I had to listen to Bud Selig give the commencement speech for my sister’s graduation. It was… maybe the worst thing ever.

    • wengler

      My friend was at that commencement. He agrees with you.

    • Aimai

      At least it wasn’t Bud Cort.

      • low-tech cyclist

        Could Bud Cort really have been worse than Bud Selig? Even allowing for the fact that it’s been 40+ years since Cort was in Harold and Maude. Even on a good day, Selig looks like someone who recently ceased having a pulse.

        • cpinva

          bud cort was also in M*A*S*H, so two good movies to his credit. that’s more than can be said for a lot of actors.

  • KatWillow

    Graduation ceremonies are excruciating anyway. Why not just stop the stupid waste of time altogether, and just mail their diplomas to the students?

    • Guggenheim Swirly

      Because a lot of people want the sort of closure on the whole college experience that a graduation ceremony brings. Probably because they’re always in movies and shit.

      (I happen to agree with you, btw.)

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “people want the sort of closure on the whole college experience”

        That’s the DIPLOMA, which traditionally says (in obscure latin phrasing): “The college admin can’t fuck you around any more”.

        It’s the parents and grandparents, etc. that are driving this bandwagon.

    • Aaron Baker

      God yes.

  • Aaron Baker

    Rescinding the invitation leaves me a bit ambivalent. If anyone is entitled to say intemperate things about Islam, it’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I’m all for harsh critiques of Islam as long as they’re accurate. But some of her comments did cross a line.

    My ambivalence struck me particularly when I read this article on the controversy by Ali Gharib: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/196399/no-brandeis-isnt-silencing-ayaan-hirsi-ali/

    Gharib says this:

    Consult, in full, a 2007 interview with Reason, which Hirsi Ali has never disavowed, wherein she repudiates the notion that her enemy is merely radical or political Islam. When Hirsi Ali describes a “war with Islam,” the interviewer asks simply, “Militarily?” Hirsi Ali responds in the affirmative.

    Yeah, that is disturbing and reprehensible. But there’s also this troubling statement by Gharib: “Her personal narrative and work on women’s rights may tell a different, laudable story, but not one that outweighs the pattern of hostility toward a major world religion.”

    As far as I’m concerned, one should show a “pattern of hostility” to religions in general and to particular religions–and to the extent that Islam is tainted by cruel, intolerant, misogynistic fundamentalism, that part of it merits particularized hostility. I’d add that it’s entirely possible to feel and utter that hostility without hating Muslims.

    So I wonder: was it just the crazier stuff–or might any sustained, vociferous critique of Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali have led to the same result?

    Incidentally, I agree that her free-speech rights weren’t infringed her–particularly in that she was later invited by Brandeis to express her opinions, but without the hefty honorarium.

    • JL

      She believes that the Constitution should be amended so that First Amendment protections don’t fully apply to Muslims, supports getting rid of refugee-friendly laws that she herself benefited from because they’re bringing Muslims in, worked for an organization that claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood was plotting to take over the US and whose material was used to train the NYPD in their wackaloon ideology, and blamed advocates of multiculturalism for Anders Breivik being driven to mass-murder kids in Norway. You could argue that Ayn Rand was entitled to say intemperate things about leftism too.

      It’s worth looking at the actual context of Brandeis. It’s a culturally/historically Jewish university where anything to do with Islam can get heated and Muslim students are already kind of marginalized. The Hirsi Ali controversy was throwing fuel on the fire.

      • Aaron Baker

        You could argue that Ayn Rand was entitled to say intemperate things about leftism too.

        Unwarranted snark; look at Ali’s personal history.

        • Aimai

          1) Public policy shouldn’t be set by people who let their personal history with specific persons guide their approach to an entire religion. If the victims of the Catholic pedophilia scandal were publicly advocating to strip Catholics, all Catholics, of their rights under US law we would really not approve. Why does her personal experience of extreme cultural violance at the hand of some Muslims entitle her to try to rewrite our constitution and our laws to hurt all Muslims?

          2) There is quite a bit of debate about the veracity of her personal story and it is in any event an open question whether her approach to Islam is really all that helpful to women who want to achieve health and safety within Islam rather than by abandoning it.

          • Aaron Baker

            I seem to be giving people the idea I said something wider-ranging (and dumber) than I actually did. I merely meant that, given her history, intemperate comments from her about Islam were understandable. I don’t see how that could have been construed as endorsing any of her policy proposals.

            As to doubts about her truthfulness in telling her life story–I wasn’t aware of those. I’ll keep them in mind from now on.

            One tangential point: when we see something horrendous and religiously motivated happening in the Islamic world, it’s unobjectionable to talk about some, not all, Muslims as being responsible for it–but that language at times obscures a systemic problem. As an example, the Qur’anic injunction to Muslim men to beat their wives when they get out of line (Sura 4:Women), combined with the orthodox Muslim interpretation of the Qur’an as an inerrant communication from God, creates a systemic predicament for Muslim women (it’s not just the random actions of this or that bad apple). Not only radical Islam, but Islam more generally, needs to be reformed if Muslim women are to be treated equally.

            • Aimai

              But this has nothing to do with asking her to speak or giving her an honorary degree at Brandeis which, of course, should not ally itself in any way with an intemperate or racist or bigoted approach to the entire religion. And, by the way, the assertion that there is something in Islamic theology which requires all Muslims to follow each and every precept in the quran without any agency or thought or criticism or shading is just bizarre. There is as much and worse on almost every page of the current incarnation of the bible, and plenty of “inerrant christian believers” who “believe” that its the word of god and yet we don’t demand that christians give up the bible or their faith in order to prevent a few bad apples from applying their weird religious beliefs literally.

              • Aaron Baker

                Whether it’s bizarre or not to think so, a thorough-going fundamentalism about the Qur’an is the majority view in the Muslim world. This fundamentalism differs in important respects from most Christian interpretations of the Bible–even the fundamentalist interpretations. It’s not the view that God inspired Muhammad, who then expressed that inspiration in his own words; rather the Qur’an was and is a direct communication from God, of which Muhammad was merely the earthly means of transmission. After some initial disputes among theologians as to its nature, the prevalent view for centuries has been that the Qur’an has coexisted with God for all eternity–a perfect revelation (though it has been supplemented by hadith, reports of Muhammad’s words and deeds). Since the Arabic text comes straight from God, no translation into another language can be authoritative.

                Does this mean a completely monolithic response to the Qur’an by Muslims? Of course not. Differences in interpretation abound. BUT this emphatic reverence makes the task of Muslim women trying to liberate themselves far more difficult than it would otherwise be.

                When I said Islam needs to be reformed, I wasn’t proposing that anyone give up their faith in Islam–or give up the Qur’an. What I had in mind was a rejection of this traditional fundamentalism. Most Christians and Jews accept the Bible as a set of human documents on which they believe God had an influence, but by no means inerrant in every detail. I think a similar view needs to prevail in Islam for women to achieve full equality.

                • Aaron Baker

                  But this has nothing to do with asking her to speak or giving her an honorary degree at Brandeis….

                  I did say my last point was tangential.

          • mark f

            There is quite a bit of debate about the veracity of her personal story

            Is there? I thought she copped to it.

            • Tom Scudder

              Her Wikipedia entry does a pretty good job on the she-says/others-say with respect to what she lied about – she’s admitted to some lies, which leaves people in doubt about the rest of her story.

            • Warren Terra

              I don’t know anything about that controversy, but she is married to Niall Ferguson, who never hesitates to say things that are both outrageous and easily proven to be false, so obviously it’s not a pattern of behavior she finds inherently objectionable.

              • IM

                Not that is sexist. She developed the ability to lie all on her own.

              • “Honey, it’s so big!”

        • witless chum

          Rand was Russian and her family fled the Bolsheviks.

          • Aaron Baker

            You’re not going to make me sympathize with Ayn Rand, are you? I hate when that happens.

            • witless chum

              Wouldn’t dream of it.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Of course not. He’s going to make you angry at the Bolsheviks for not having kept up the pursuit.

              • Aaron Baker

                Faster, comrades, faster!

              • Bill Murray

                If only the Cossacks had worked for the Bolsheviks rather than the Tsar

        • IM

          what personal history? the woman is a fraud. That was after all the reason she ad to leave the Netherlands.

    • Hogan

      was it just the crazier stuff–or might any sustained, vociferous critique of Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali have led to the same result?

      Do you think Brandeis didn’t know she was a critic of Islam before they invited her?

      • Aaron Baker

        No doubt they did; I was talking about the student reaction to her.

    • Aaron Baker

      This is good on some of her more grotesque comments (some of these I hadn’t read before–so she’s behaved more reprehensibly than I at first thought)–and on the line between responsible critique and Islamophobia:


    • JTR

      As strongly as I agree with you that Islam deserves more than its share of strident criticism, likewise I would agree there are doubtlessly people out there who are just as happy when any critic is shouted down, I don’t think the sort of demagoguery that JL recounts above is really justified by that project.

      • Aaron Baker

        I agree: JL’s right about that.

  • LeeEsq

    Our commencement speaker was Goldie Hawne. I even got a picture with her out of it.

    • keta

      Is that the mother of Kate Hudsone? Did she giggle?

      • NonyNony

        Our commencement speaker was Goldie Hawne.

        Is that the mother of Kate Hudsone?


        I think I just got gut-punched by my age.

        • keta

          I’m here to tell ya’ it takes more than a standing eight count when that punch lands on the crackers.

        • Aaron Baker

          Me, too.

      • LeeEsq

        Yes to both. She was a fun commencement speaker. My brother got Tony Kushner.

        • keta

          Your brother’s lucky. I always liked The Monkees and The Archies. And the Tony Kushner Rock Concert was must-see teevee in those long-ago pre-MTV days.

    • Bill Murray

      did you sock it to her?

  • keta

    The Gumper was the commencement speaker at my graduation. The best part was that he delivered his speech dressed for work.

    His inspirational talk was peppered with urgings like, “face the world without a mask,” and, “two-on-ones are scary.” While his bawdy tale about Claude Ruel and the nun (he swore it was true!) brought the house down, some complained about the “locker-room” language.

    Best speech I’ve ever attended.

    • toberdog


    • witless chum

      That sounds great.

    • Warren Terra

      His inspirational talk was peppered with urgings like, “face the world without a mask,”

      Contra this, I would have applauded the selection of Frank Sidebottom as a commencement speaker, no question.

  • Manta


    “So, what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don’t recommend it.

    I don’t look back on my first few years out of school with much affection, and if I could have talked to you six months ago, I’d have encouraged you all to flunk some classes and postpone this moment as long as possible. But now it’s too late.
    Unfortunately, that was all the advice I really had.”

  • Opie Elvis

    Every once in awhile though….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI

    DFW at Kenyon College 2005

  • Origami Isopod

    the anti-liberal left

    Michelle Goldberg is still evidently smarting over the fact that there are plenty of feminists out there who aren’t too happy with mainstream (read: white middle-class) liberal feminism and are no longer content to shut up and deal.

    • Tom Servo

      Yes, this was very much a gratuitous swipe. Not everyone on the left is like Freddie.

    • Tom Servo

      The other thing is, I am not a fan of benefit of the doubt. Even if I like someone I prefer to evaluate their position de novo. Someone can be a feminist, and female, and still be racist and classist. I give my allies the benefit of the doubt, but there is a lot of aggressive condescension out there.

      That linked piece is outstanding.

    • pseudalicious

      I felt her take-down of Trans Twitter deciding that “internal genitalia” is the only trans-friendly way for me to refer to my vagina was overdue.

      • pseudalicious

        Though I do think that by only singling out Mikki Kendall/Karnythia and not Riley, so-treu and the rest of the batshit Tumblr brigade, she was doing her larger point a disservice.

        • Origami Isopod, Commisar [sic] of Ideology for the Bolsheviks

          Karnythia is… to use an expression that has become a bit suspect by now, “problematic.” But I agree that Riley, so_treu, etc. are much, much worse. Also, yes, the linguistic debates on Tumblr are OTT and ridiculous.

          That said, most of Goldberg’s critics are justifiably angry at straight white cisgender middle-class feminists (and I’m one of them) for having thrown feminists of other kinds under the bus for years.

          Also, while stalking and doxxing carried out by Riley et al. is entirely unjustifiable, WoC, trans* women, etc. have been getting stalked and doxxed for years, and it gets very little notice outside WoC, trans*, etc. circles. Yet Goldberg gets criticized for her article and all of a sudden she’s being “bullied.” Shades of the whole “FTBullies” crap going on in the atheo-sphere.

          • pseudalicious

            Oh, okay, I wasn’t entirely understanding you. I didn’t know people were accusing Goldberg’s critics of bullying; the critiques I’ve read were not bullying, to my eyes. I meant more that I didn’t think her essay was as out of line as some have said. Though your point about WOC, trans folks, etc., getting doxxed and stalked and abused is a good one.

            • Origami Isopod, Commisar [sic] of Ideology for the Bolsheviks

              I can’t remember the name of the critic of Tumblr culture whom Goldberg linked to, but I think that person did a much better job of it, without the tone-trolling and handwringing.

      • Lee Rudolph

        That would be (if I read your situation correctly) your paleo-vagina, as distinguished from a neo-vagina, right?

        • pseudalicious

          My vagina does not eat legumes or refined sugar, it’s completely paleo.

        • pseudalicious

          To seriously answer your question, I started typing this whole thing, but it’s better to just go to Goldberg’s article in The Nation and also Google around for a Storify of the “Night of 1,000 Vaginas” Twitter fight. But yeah, I’m a cis woman, I’m not trying to be a transphobic fuck. But Twitter and Tumblr are kind of nuts.

  • Gabe

    My Commencement had a last minute cancellation from Christopher Guest and so instead got Bryan Stephenson instead who knocked it out of the park. My Grandfather, who had been a professor for 40 years so sat through his share of these, later said it was the best he ever heard


    That said a few seconds finds his speaker agent listing. I don’t know what the fee is but while probably not the 30K+ top tier people get I’m imagining it isn’t low for what is essentially one hour’s work

    • Lee Rudolph

      for what is essentially one hour’s work

      Takes up your whole day, though, in most cases, I’m guessing.

    • Warren Terra

      It’s not one hour’s work. There’s the writing, the preparation, the travel, they’re likely at the ceremony for far longer than the delivery of their speech, they’re expected to greet and be photographed with university dignitaries and possibly students and other attendees, there may be a reception, etcetera. The fees can be huge and appear often to be absurdly inflated, but let’s not claim it’s an hour’s work.

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  • heckblazer

    I actually had two commencement speakers at two different ceremonies. Normally at UCSD each college had it’s own separate ceremony. However, President Clinton out of the blue decided he was going to give a commencement speech, so there was an additional university-wide ceremony where he spoke. Clinton gave a policy speech on diversity, and it was amusing to watch Ward Connolley while the president praised affirmative action. My college’s speaker was Bill Richardson, and his speech was completely forgettable.

  • tensor

    I am a graduate of Colorado University. I have absolutely no idea who spoke at my ceremony, or what (other than the Norlin Charge, of course) they said. I went back for friends’ graduations; I don’t recall anything about those speeches, either.

    In a sense, I’m lucky, because a few years back, I attended another friend’s graduation, at UW here in Seattle, and never in my life have I endured a set of speakers who had such utterly callous disregard for the time and attention of their audience. It was unseasonably hot and sunny (yes, that can happen here) and I was wilting in the shade of the stadium’s roof. Had the graduates, out in the full sunlght in their black robes, not been almost entirely hearty and hale Millenials, the UW Medical Center would have seen a steady stream of ambulances.

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