University of Michigan alumnus Sanjay Gupta returned to Ann Arbor this past weekend at the start of the 2012 commencement season and delivered an uncommonly entertaining speech to more than 45,000 people in the Big House.
Too many commencement speeches are, well, boring — too long, too conventional, utterly humorless. Not Gupta’s.
A neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent, Gupta told great stories — including about how his parents remarkably met and about his own stellar career path as he dispensed the requisite advice to more than 10,000 graduating students and their friends and family.
“Simply being here,” he said at the beginning, “is incredibly personal for me. You see, not only was the foundation for most of my life conceived in this town. I myself was likely conceived in this town. Best bet is the 17th floor of the University Towers though no one is talking still even after 43 years.”
Then he proceeded to tell an amazing story about how his mother, a new immigrant to the United States, was driving through Ann Arbor when her car broke down. Knowing no one, she went to a phone booth (yes, they had them in the mid-1960s), took the telephone book inside and found an Indian name starting with the letter ‘A.’
The person who lived at the phone number she dialed wasn’t home, but the young man who did answer wound up becoming her husband and Gupta’s father. It was sheer luck that he liked fixing cars.
Gupta’s 20-minute speech gets better from there.
He gave the graduates 10 life lessons, the first being to respect their elders, but, amazingly, he didn’t say it in a pedantic way. He urged them to keep lifelong friendships, and ultimately, to be able to always say, “I am who I always wanted to be.”
Gupta earned two degrees at the University of Michigan — a bachelor’s and medical — and on Saturday was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
I happened to be in the Big House on Saturday because my nephew was graduating. Though it was cold enough for one of the speakers to win applause by saying, “Go Blue, or turn blue,” the audience knew they had heard an unusually engaging commencement speech.
By the way, I asked the University of Michigan for a copy of the text of Gupta’s speech. An official said he told them he spoke from bullet points.
Watch it and enjoy it.
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