6 highlights from this year’s college commencement season

What gems will we hear today? (Macalester College)

Here are snippets that jumped out at me from six commencement ceremonies at Minnesota private colleges.

Most are humorous, but a couple gave me insight or made me realize how things had changed from the time I was in college.

Feel free to send in bits from other speeches I missed:

Retiring University of St. Thomas President Dennis Dease — St. John’s University:

“A few years ago one evening I was fast-walking around the St. Thomas campus one evening when I tripped on an elevated section of the sidewalk. I landed squarely on my right shoulder and when I got to my feet I couldn’t move my arm. Fortunately I was only about 50 yards from our Public Safety office, and one of the officers drove me to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. I was admitted to the Emergency Room where my shoulder was X-rayed. Then a doctor approached and told me that he had two bits of bad news for me: “First, your shoulder is dislocated and probably broken; and second,” he said, “I’m a Johnnie.” I must have gotten an anxious look on my face because when I looked across the room and saw another doctor entering the ER, the first doctor added: “And he’s a Johnnie, too.”  “In a weak attempt at humor, I replied: “Well there goes my second opinion.”

 President Brian Rosenberg before the commencement speech at Macalester College:

 “After two decades of formal education and three decades in academia, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are, in fact, two canonical texts within which most of life’s essential lessons are captured: Seinfeld and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. This is not to say that either sitcom fully plumbs the murky depths of human experience, but rather that if one were dropped from the sky, with no knowledge of this peculiar and perplexing world we inhabit, one could do worse than begin with the ruminations of George Costanza, Lou Grant and their companions. It was Jerry Seinfeld, for example, who observed that “sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason — about as good advice for new college graduates as I have heard in some time. And then there is Ted Baxter, whose philosophical stylings include the following: It’s actually tomorrow in Tokyo. Do you realize that there are people alive here in Minneapolis who are already dead in Tokyo?”

Bill Kling, president emeritus of American Public Media, parent company of MPR  — College of St. Scholastica:

“I think my generation took advantage of the America that our parents had built. I think we took more than we gave. We had the wonderful 60’s and 70’s, which allowed a kind of self indulgence, which many never got past. But then you come along – required to face the problems that have grown over the last 50 years. And you are about to learn that no one else is going to solve those problems. It will be your generation that will have to make the tough decisions. And it will be you, and my grand-children, who will live with your results.”

Retiring University of St. Thomas President Dennis Dease — University of St. Thomas:

“In high school … I remember in particular a Sister Yvonne who taught physics.  She almost always began class by writing a lengthy equation on the black-boards, doing the math as she went along, and her numbers would literally cover three walls.  By the time she finished, her black traditional nun’s habit was almost white from chalk dust, and on occasion she would discover when the conclusion did not come out right that she had made an error in a fraction somewhere along the line.  We would take particular delight when the error would be near the beginning of the equation because then, in addition to having to change the conclusion on the right side of the equals sign, she would have to backtrack to where the mistake was made, erasing nearly three walls of figures. This would mean that any parts of her habit that had remained black would now become totally white. Nevertheless, she would typically take all of this in stride, turn to us and ask: “Class, this only confirms the first law of physics, which is . . . ?”  And we would respond in unison: “Everything is connected!”

Her point was that even if you change only one tiny fraction of a huge mathematical statement, in so doing you have literally changed the whole equation. Her mind would then leap from physics to civics and she would tell us that life was like that, too. You should never, ever make the mistake of thinking that it’s a big world and you can’t really make much of a difference. Indeed, each of you can change the world. All you have to do, really, is change one tiny fraction, and voila! The entire equation has been changed. The world will never again be the same!”

Journalist Roxana Sabieri ’97 — Concordia College:

“It’s a thrill to finally be your commencement speaker. I apologize I couldn’t make it in 2009, when I was first invited, but I was stuck in a prison in Iran. …

When I reread (the book “Man’s Search for Meaning”) in my cell, I found new meaning in the words of (author) Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

By choosing our attitude, we can find meaning in our prisons — our adversities — and turn them into opportunities to grow and even to help others.”

Denise DeVaan ’75, senior consultant with ICF International — College of St. Benedict:

“What can the ordinary person do to reduce the carbon footprint? Look at what you are doing on this campus. Sustainable actions. No more trays to carry food to your table, resulting in reduced waste. No more plastic bottled waters used and disposed of– on campus. Instead water stations are available to re-fill water bottles. Competition between the dorms to reduce energy consumption. A campus-wide sustainability policy in place and more to come. Even the graduation robes you wear today come from recycled materials. Remarkable.”