By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Column: Graduation season brings out best, worst speakers
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

Once again, it’s graduation season. In the next few weeks, there will be thousands of high school and college graduates taking that walk across a platform to receive a coveted diploma.

High schools in this area have largely eliminated guest graduation speakers. This is due partly to the number of students who have their names called for the awarding of a diploma.

Colleges have an assortment of speakers, ranging from high-ranking politicians to corporate executives. Some colleges pay the fee to have movie stars, national journalists or even daytime TV hosts to inspire their graduates to new heights. It doesn’t always work.

This year, students at the University of Georgia will hear from Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Airlines. I don’t know how many of the people in Sanford Stadium will be interested in what Ed has to day. If they are leaving to go on a post-graduation trip to Antigua, they may be listening for any flight cancellations, however, I don’t think he’ll have anything to say about that.

Students at Tulane University will hear from Ken Jeong, the medical doctor who has now become an actor and comedian. Ken is a regular on some kind of singing talent show.

Regent University, the college founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, will hear from Glenn Youngkin, the governor of Virginia. That’s a switch, they usually bring in somebody to say less than glowing things about the governor of Virginia.

The University of Florida will hear a speech from quarterback Tim Tebow. This is probably a freebie. It’s hard to charge the university that gave you an education and presented you to the nation as their quarterback and helped you win the Heisman Trophy.

The New York Law School will hear from Judge Judy Sheindlin, “Judge Judy” of TV fame. The undergrad at NYU will hear from singer Taylor Swift.

Earlier this week, Emory’s graduates heard from Tyler Perry, who has been on a rags to riches ride in filmmaking. They also made him an honorary doctor of laws.

I think the worst college graduation speaker I heard was Ryan Secrest, the co-host of a daytime talk show and the host of “American Idol.”

The best was Ernie Johnson Jr., who told his audience about adopting children and about life, saying that when he is older, he will never say, “Man, I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

Johnson and his wife adopted a 3-year-old boy from a Romanian orphanage. The child was already suffering from muscular dystrophy. Michael Johnson died just a few months ago at the age of 33. He had taught many people the sign language for “Love you, too.” It became a symbol or trademark of his.

Ryan Secrest talked about his hair.

I hope more young Bulldogs heard Johnson’s words.

A lot of good speakers pour hours into their remarks. Others just call someone in public relations and say, “Hey, how about writing me a speech?”

I heard a great speech one year from a high school valedictorian, who quoted Jesus, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr.

By the way, where do you find a good philosopher these days? I looked once in the Yellow Pages and nope, not a one.

If you see one at a college graduation this year, let me know.


Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.