Last year, UVM chose Ben Stein as its graduation speaker. A smart financial guy, comedian, actor, writer, speaker, and political talking head. UVM President Fogel has a connection to Mr. Stein that allowed the booking to occur.
Mr. Stein's thoughts about evolution, that he had expressed at an earlier campus appearance, irked a number of students; thus, they protested his booking. UVM scrapped Mr. Stein's presentation. Ben wasn't happy. Ah, spilled milk. Instead, UVM booked ex-Gov. Howard Dean to speak. Mr. Stein's fee was to have been up around near seven or eight grand-a healthy discount, Mr. Stein said, from his usual speaking fee.
As of April 19, news items contained information that UVM hadn't chosen their 2010 commencement speaker. I e-mailed the UVM ceremonies office listing my speech topics, and my credentials; vast graduation speaker experience, varied and deeply rooted involvement with Vermont communities, spotless business and personal standing in the state. And when senior classes choose me as their commencement speaker, I take time to visit the students months before the event. Can't imagine showing up on the day never having met them. Schools offer a fee for graduation speeches. I always decline. I wrote UVM I'd accept a fee if they chose me. I think they'd be wise to consider me.
Small chance UVM officials will consider me as a speaker. I understand. At UVM, the powers-that-be are too busy to know who is out there offering something more relevant and entertaining than the likes of a Howard Dean or Ben Stein (two folks who've raised their reputations to a rarefied level).
Students and their families need me as their speaker.
I know how a person should perform, first and foremost, when delivering a graduation speech. Brief-that's it; one should be brief.
Graduation speakers provide a service that is totally expendable; few speakers act as if they realize that. Too bad for grandmothers who travel hundreds of miles to sit for hours in the blazing heat listening as the speaker trumpets, "Back when I signed my first book contract I had no idea...blah, blah, blah."
There are those who love hearing themselves speak, an attribute that fuels their ability to find ways to be heard. If they succeed in being heard, and what they're saying is the least bit interesting, they gain notoriety-notoriety that lands them on the list from which speakers are chosen. It's a vicious cycle. A cycle we must stop.
A better commencement speaker for UVM to consider might be someone meek; you've got to believe those who'll inherit the Earth are worth more of a listen than those who believe the Earth is lucky to have them.
I place myself in the former group-the unmeek kind.
Next commencement speech I give, I wish I have nerve enough to buck up and be humble. Maybe I should give the speech I wrote while on a country walk today? Here goes-
"I can spout specifics on things you don't need to know, but of things you should know; I know no more than you already know. I do not want to waste a minute of your precious future. Thank you."
I like giving graduation speeches and I'll keep doing them, for free (so long as I keep getting asked). I won't say I'm good or bad at it; I'll just say, I try to be humble, aware of others, and brief.
Do you know I received a polite call from a nice lady in UVM's president's office thanking me for thinking of them and offering my services? She said by the time they'd received my note, a speaker had already been chosen. She passed my material on to the committee to consider during next years search. The lady who spoke with me has children in a school where I have given graduation speeches. She's the main reason I might have a chance to be UVM's graduation speaker-some day.
It's not what you know it's who you know. You can't get a hit if you don't swing. What is there to lose? You never know. All those sayings have merit. Believe me.
Rusty DeWees tours Vermont and Northern New York with his act "The Logger." His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen for The Logger, Rusty DeWees, Thursdays at 7:40 on the Big Station, 98.9 WOKO or visit his website at www.thelogger.com