May 5, 2005

Geeks Rule the Stage at Graduation

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If you want to be a commencement speaker, get out of sports. Put away your glove, flatten your football and melt down your hockey pucks. Graduation is the season of the geek.

Sports stars simply are not on the A-list for graduation ceremonies. You will look in vain for a Wayne Gretzky or a Mike Eruzione — people who have actually done something in life. Instead, the graduation daises of the country are littered with the likes of Janet Reno ’60 or Frank Rich — ubergeeks who have never played the game.

This year, for example, Cornell alum Reno speaks at Winston-Salem. New York Times nitwit Rich addresses the graduates at Cooper Union. George “God Help Us All” Will is at Miami-Coral Gables. At least Will is a Cubs fan.

May is ignominiously the Month of the Geek. Last year, Harvard had Kofi Annan. USC — a college sports mecca — has Neil Armstrong this year. And Calvin College has George W. Bush, the man who once traded a young Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines.

In three weeks, we will have General Wesley K. Clark. In many ways, Clark is a remarkable man. He has across-the-board religious appeal. Grandson of a Russian Jew, Clark was raised as a Southern Baptist and later became a Roman Catholic while in Vietnam in the 60s. Clark finished first in his class at West Point.

But sports are not Clark’s forte. When he was in high school in football-crazy Arkansas, he was on the swim team. At West Point, he dropped off the swim team to join the debate club. Despite his scars and medals, Clark is, regretfully, just another geek. God willing, Clark will not regale us with his typical military rhetoric capped with his embarrassingly trite “be all you can be” campaign promulgation. General, we may very well be asleep by then.

Finding the right commencement speaker is not a simple task, especially here at our beloved Cornell. The ideal speaker must condense heartfelt remembrance, rousing inspiration and a few well-timed witticisms into the briefest of oratories. Our speaker must relate and connect to us. Is there something about excellence in athletics that disqualifies someone from speaking to a graduating class?

We need speakers who are rich, powerful and recognizable. We need men and women of accomplishment and fame; people with a willingness to speak their mind. We need someone not afraid to invigorate, offend or even disgust. We need sport stars.

Wake Forest is on the right track this year with Arnold Palmer, the winner of seven PGA major championships. Unfortunately, Palmer’s personality is just about as infectious and endearing as the sport he plays. Palmer is a geek, and we need better.

Take Randy Moss, for instance. The antics of Oakland’s freshly appointed savior would translate well into a graduation speech. Succulent pearls of wisdom like “When you’re rich you don’t write checks … straight cash homey” and a re-enactment of the receiver’s infamously obscene touchdown celebration would touch the most iron-hearted of graduates. Who wants to hear about NATO when we can have Randy?

If Cornell could coax Heat star Shaquille O’Neal away from the playoffs for an afternoon, the graduating class would surely rejoice. For our history majors, Shaq’s assessment of Miami’s 14-game winning streak would strike a particularly compelling nerve: “I’ll take 14 out of 15 any day of the week, any week of the month, any month of the year, any year of the century. I don’t know what comes after century.” Seriously, who cares what comes after century?

The list of viable sports speakers is endless. All too often the quotes and phrases attributed to our great athletic legends appear in convocation sermons — yet we fail to see the stars themselves. Why not Bobby Knight? Why not Mike Tyson? Jose Conseco? Prime Time? The Juice?

Commencement speaker selection committees have been woefully misguided. Can Brian Williams tell graduates he is responsible for one of the most significant statements by the U.S. against communist Russia during the Cold War? No, but Eruzione can. What can Dick Cheney, last year’s speaker at Florida State, tell us about sportsmanship and fair play? For that, we need the Great One.

Regardless, we could simply have Arizona State’s Delta Gamma mud-wrestle on Schoellkopf. With that in the background, anyone could listen to the good General all afternoon.

At the risk of sounding like a middle school yearbook, here are a few memories for our graduates, in no particular order:

EJ: A bottle of Absolut Peppar and a not-so-endearing nickname.

F. Ready: Smug looks and Women’s Rugby International.

E-Stein: The Passion of the Christ, The Third Man and elaborately constructed insults.

Former Chief: Wait, you’re not going anywhere.

Sinovsky: A fully, and I mean fully, stocked bar.

Matt Miller:A whole slew of mythological nicknames.

Funk: Slightly Stoopid and glorious weeks of abandoning all classes and responsibility.

Van Dyke: Mung and Prometheus.

College: You are my reason for living.

Howe: The sanctity of gay marriage.

Massa: A shattered bench.

Tau: Schmeg, a glass gun filled with cheap wine, and the sunset.

Ozone: Your keys, beirut with cups no human should ever touch, and season seats at Shea.

The Ultimate Trip will be checking in next year from Ithaca Europe, better known as London. Prepare for a year of hooligans, EPL madness, pub-clearing brawls and chance encounters with Keira Knightley look-alikes. And thanks again for reading.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip has appeared every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen