Niagara Gazette — When I was teaching journalism a few years ago at Buffalo State, I asked my students to write their own obituary.
I figured not only would it give them experience in learning the newspaper style, but it would also make them think about their life and who they wanted to become.
I would have done better if I’d asked them to write a commencement address.
I started thinking about this the other day when I got an email from Niagara University noting that NPR radio recently compiled a list of the best 300 graduation speeches given since 1774. Eleven of those speeches were from Niagara University. Only one other area college commencement address made the cut and that was given at the University at Buffalo.
Reading over the list, I first checked out the speech from 1774, given at Rhode Island College by Barnaby Binney, the class valedictorian, which, frankly was kind of a yawner and made me question the validity of the whole project. But, then I began reading some of the other speeches selected.
The one that acclaimed civil rights attorney Bill Kuntsler gave at the University of Buffalo — and his opinion of how our citizenry’s fear of everything has allowed the government to chip away at our Bill of Rights, should be required reading for every American. Maybe too, Irish rock star Bono’s funny and irreverent grad speech at the University of Pennsylvania where he confessed his love for America, and then lobbied the class to turn their attention to Africa, where the fate of millions of starving and sick has become one of this era’s defining global challenges.
I also read each and every one of the 11 NU commencement addresses selected. Thus, as a fan of all the good work done by the school, I must ask with loving skepticism if that NPR group that compiled the list included a Niagara grad. A couple of those NU addresses selected were from graduating NU students and frankly, it’s my opinion that almost nobody’s got enough wisdom worth sharing to a captive audience unless they’ve actually lived a life beyond college.