BOSTON (CBS) – Commencement speeches. Ugh. Talk about been there, done that. I’ve sat and squirmed through my share as no doubt you have. I have also been on the giving end spouting an unremarkable address to a small local college a few years back. For most graduates and their invited guests The Speech is a necessary means to an end. Mix platitudes, hopes, dreams and advice with a generous helping of clichés and you’ve got yourself a typical graduation speech. A few stand out among the millions. There was the Bill Gates speech of several years ago, one of the first to go viral on the Web that was remarkably candid. J.K. Rowlings talked about the critical lessons drawn from failure which led to her status as the richest author in the world. And just this spring, English teacher David McCullough’s address to the graduating seniors at Wellesley High School, (McCullough is the son of the famous historian of the same name) made a lot of news and got people talking. His “you are not special” approach broke tradition big time and was more pointed, interesting and challenging than any recent speech by a president, actor, author or tycoon.
I provide said background as I rush to the defense of someone who certainly doesn’t need my help, CNN foreign affairs host and scholar Fareed Zakaria.
Our paper of record The Boston Globe raked him over the literary coals this past week for delivering similar speeches to two graduation ceremonies first at Duke and then at Harvard, two weeks apart. The paper insinuated strongly that the speaker was lazy, that he took the easy route by repeating sections of one commencement speech at a different ceremony during the same graduation season. C’mon now, there has to be more news fit to print than that?
Our campaign happy president, like all of his predecessors and challengers, is out on the stump delivering the same hackneyed campaign dribble many times a day for weeks on end. Poor Fareed has to write scholarly papers, teach classes, host a national talk show and probably adlib internationally pungent Tweets—what’s the sin in recycling a perfectly acceptable speech for another audience just waiting for the whole thing to be over so junior can get his diploma already? How many graduates of Duke had also taken classes concurrently at Harvard qualifying them to graduate from both schools at the same time? If it were not for online busybodies who catalogue and fact check everything, who would notice or care? Fareed wrote a decent speech, likely as forgettable as the rest of them. He’s a busy dude who managed his time well, wringing the most out of one speech, with new the worse for wear.
Unlike our current Vice president (you may remember the incident in which he liberally borrowed from a British politician’s speech back in the 1980’s), Fareed didn’t plagiarize anyone or anything except his own text. Last time anyone checked, that wasn’t one of the deadly sins.
I say, let he who is without sin—who hasn’t used Cliff Notes, repeated a killer joke, told the same silly story over and over or stolen a catchphrase or two— cast the first draft.