Friday, May 8, 2015

Commencement Speakers of Years Past

by Casey Gamble and Bryan Whitledge

Students celebrating
commencement, 1984
For anyone who has had the opportunity to enjoy sitting through lengthy commencement ceremonies, you understand how nice it is when a prolific orator can deliver a speech that imparts wisdom and inspiration and entertains at the same time.

CMU has had a host of great speakers over the years. Many of the speakers have been university presidents, politicians, and business leaders in Michigan. We took a look at some of the speakers of CMU Commencements-Past. Some highlights have included CMU alum and actor, screen-writer, and play-write Jeff Daniels (2000). Francis B. Molson, a beloved professor of English and Clarke Historical Library benefactor, spoke to graduates in 1994. And in 1997, CMU invited attorney F. Lee Bailey.

Bailey is known as being the criminal-defense lawyer for O.J. Simpson, Patty Hearst, Dr. Sam Sheppard, and the Boston Strangler. In the "Our Voice" section of the CM Life posted several days before Commencement, it was expressed that some people did not feel that Bailey was someone who should be delivering to them their final words of wisdom before they dispersed into the world. "Name recognition is an excellent quality to have in a commencement speaker, but quality of character is another" (CMLife, December 8, 1997, p. 4).

Commencement in Finch Fieldhouse, ca. 1950s
But one speaker that Central was certainly proud to invite to commencement spoke in December 1981. CMU alumnus and NBC reporter, Lem Tucker, returned to his school to deliver a speech that he planned on being better than your ordinary "hard work pays off" theme. As a man who had seen a lot in his career, he felt he needed to be more honest with the students, in the sense that they were heading into a competitive world, and "like heavy cream, the survivors will rise to the top" (CMLife, December 7, 1981, p. 1).

Whether a commencement speaker ignites controversy or is universally loved by the grads, we hope that with each commencement ceremony, the graduates leave feeling like they have gained something that will help them turn the page to the next chapter of their lives.

This weekend, the CMU commencement speakers include  
  • Joseph S. Francisco, dean of the college of arts and sciences at University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    Melanie Bergeron chairperson at Two Men and a Truck
  • Thomas Morgan, documentary filmmaker who uses his documentaries to increase people's understanding of important social issues such as homelessness, youth incarceration, and abuse and neglect.