The College has published the speeches from graduation. Good stuff! Kudos to whoever is behind this effort, especially the care taken with maintaining an archive of past speeches. Future historian should note, alas, that not all speeches were presented as they are listed there (or so reports my summer intern who helped to rewrite the end of his brother’s speech). The Eagle and iBershires provided coverage.

Were any readers at the festivities? Comments welcome.

Peter Nunns ’08 reports:

I want to say more – about the student speeches (one smarmy bullshit, one well-meaning banality, and one that was well-thought-out), or about the speech by sculptor Richard Serra (it was the sort of flinty realism one would expect from someone who works with huge bits of steel – “If it’s not broken, break it!”), or about the sweet-ass robes worn by the professors (they motivated me to apply to graduate school). But I’m tired.

Don’t go to graduate school unless you are certain you know what you are getting into. See advice from Derek Catsam ’93 and Swarthmore Professor Tim Burke.

Sam Crane enjoyed Richard Sera’s speech.

We had our graduation here at Williams College yesterday and all the ceremonies went well. The threatened rain never materialized and all the graduates were duly recognized. The invited speaker was sculptor Richard Serra, the man who is famous for his giant manipulations of sheets of rolled steel. I went to his retrospective at the MoMA last year and was quite impressed. I had seen pictures of his big steel works before, but I had never had the chance to get close to them, to walk through them, to take them in physically. If “awesome” were not so overused, it would be a good description.

Serra’s commencement speech was memorable – the more I think about it, the more I like it. I’m sure I will remember it. Most striking was the line I have take for the title of this post?: “If it ain’t broke – break it.” This was his main theme, of sorts. He exhorted the graduates to follow their own instincts and desires and obsessions wherever they might lead; to not allow conventions and social expectations and the advice of others to distract them from their own personal life’s paths.

The style of the presentation matched his intention. He did not embed his ideas in personal anecdote. Indeed, he warded the assembled multitude away from metaphor. He stood as a beacon of pure abstraction, just like his sculptures. I’m sure many did not like the speech all that much because it did not have the nice, story-telling quality of so many graduation day presentations. And I am also sure that Serra was aware that many would not like it. But he did not let that stop him; he did not allow the ideal of the “graduation speech” to get in the was of what he wanted to say. The abstraction of his words matched the passion of his message: follow your heart; don’t listen to others who tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t do what you can see and feel you must do. If the “rules” are telling you that you can’t (and by this he means social and cultural expectations, not literally the law), break them.

Hmmm. Is that really good advice? The great problem with advice from Commencement speakers is selection bias. Assume that there are 100 artists who, 50 years ago, were following this advice. One of them, at least, is Richard Serra. Good for him! But what happened to the other 99? Was following “their own instincts and desires and obsessions wherever they might lead” really the best strategy for them? Tough to know since none of them will ever speak at a Williams Commencement.

Best line: “Now, men, telling a woman she’s beautiful is always a good idea … no matter the question she asked.” So true! That’s from Class Speaker Gordon Phillips ’08. My own version is: “You can never buy your Eph lady friend too many flowers.” What advice do our readers have for the graduates?

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