This is the fourth in a series of four essays on core texts connected to the educational goal of developing wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.
The student with a beach ball, flip flops, and sunglasses at graduation is neither original nor clever. While the student may be excused for youthful indiscretion, when a graduation speaker is neither original nor clever it is the gravest of all commencement sins.Often times a graduation speech is a panegyric to days gone by or a story with a few ethereal Carnegie-inspired quotes that will evaporate as soon as the student receives the diploma. If what the graduation speaker has to say is so important, a student might wonder, why does it have to wait until the end of the student’s time at university? The graduation speaker is usually remembered for being very brief (very few claim this to be a problem), overly verbose, or upstaged by events beyond their control.
The commencement exercises at Harvard Yard on June 8, 1978 were upstaged by an unexpected and unpleasant cold weather front. The students, parents, and faculty that sat uncomfortably in the weather had also the sometimes jarring experience of hearing a foreign tongue echo only to be chased seconds later by a translator’s approximation. But this speaker was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famed author of the Gulag Archipelago and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, now residing in Vermont. Continue reading The Wisdom of Solzhenitsyn