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What do you remember from the speaker at your commencement ceremony?

Do you remember anything the speaker at one of your commencement ceremonies said?

Schools put so much energy — and sometimes piles of cash — into prestige speakers. Sometimes, it goes wrong, like this year’s fiasco at Rutgers University, where petitions and protests were loud enough that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice withdrew her agreement to speak at graduation.

Same thing happened on Monday at Smith College, where student and faculty protests against policies of the International Monetary Fund prompted IMF Managing Director Christine Legarde to withdraw from speaking at their commencement.

My theory is that most graduates really don’t remember a thing the speaker said, or often who it was.

Some readers proved me wrong — sort of — with e-mails about their commencement memories.

“(Susan Sontag spoke at) my sister’s commencement at Wellesley, 1983 — She said ‘Be bold, be bold, be bold. I didn’t understand her meaning then. Mine was Geraldine Ferraro, super nice, but don’t remember a word,” one reader said.

A graduate of West Point wrote to me about a memorable speech in 1983.

“After a string of politicians who used the stage at West Point to discuss high-level political or diplomatic topics that the waiting graduates and their families cared little about, Casper Weinberger came to speak at my 1983 graduation. Instead of talking over our heads literally and figuratively the Secretary of Defense and World War II veteran spoke to us as individual and commented at length how great and important it was that we chose military education and service when we became cadets in 1979.”

One reader said he remembered every word that U.S. Sen. John Warner spoke at his sister’s 1994 commencement ceremony at James Madison University, outside, in pouring rain.

“Sometimes political figures should be seen and not heard. I will not give my speech,” Warner said, congratulating the graduates, who cheered wildly.

“And that was it. Best speech ever,” the reader said.

Remember anything from your graduation speakers? Let us know.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.


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