March 20th, 2013

Harvard Commencement Day speakers: upward and onward

Here are some samples from the list of Harvard Commencement Day speakers over approximately the last century and a half. I’ve left out ones you’re unlikely to have heard of, which mostly occur in the early years anyway, and selected out the most illustrious, but the pattern is very clear. Until recently the honor was always given to someone outstanding in a field that seemed to fit the august occasion: influential statesmen, politicians, heads of state, diplomats, academics, scientists, economists, jurists, and the occasional man (or woman) of letters.

In 1942 and 1944 there were two uncharacteristic years when journalists received the honor, but for the most part the tradition of sober eminences continued unabated till recently. And diversity was hardly ignored. The first black man was 1949’s Ralph Bunche (who was also an alum), the first woman was in 1957 (Lady Barbara Jackson, economist, writer, and environmentalist who received an honorary degree), and the first black woman was Barbara Jordan in 1977.

In 1947 George Marshall used the occasion to outline the plan that would bear his name. Stuff like that.

Whether you agree or disagree with the choices and approve or disapprove of their achievements and/or politics, there’s no denying this was a group with gravitas. Here are some of the rest (note the father/grandson combo, as well as one person who spoke twice, once in 1976 and again in 2002):

(1844) Charles Lyell.

(1862) John Stuart Mill.

(1875) Thomas Carlyle.

(1890) Leslie Stephen

(1904) Henry Cabot Lodge (the elder).

(1914) Sir Charles Fitzpatrick

(1927) Josiah Stamp

(1934) Harold W. Dodds

(1940) Cordell Hull and Carl Sandburg

(1943) Winston Churchill

(1945) Alexander Fleming

(1947) George Catlett Marshall

(1949) Ralph Bunche

(1952) John Foster Dulles

(1954) Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

(1955) Konrad Adenauer

(1956) John Fitzgerald Kennedy

(1958) Raymond Aron

(1962) Lionel Trilling

(1963) U Thant

(1965) Adlai Stevenson

(1968) Mohammed Pahlevi (Shah of Iran)

(1971) Alan Paton

(1974) Ralph Ellison

(1976) Daniel Patrick Moynihan

(1977) Barbara Jordan

(1978) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

(1985) Paul A. Volcker

(1989) Benazir Bhutto

(1990) Helmut Kohl

(1993) Colin Powell

(1994) Al Gore

(1995) Vaclav Havel

(1997) Madeline Albright

(1999) Alan Greenspan

(2002) Daniel Patrick Moynihan

(2004) Kofi A. Annan

And then, a shift. in 2005 it was actor John Lithgow (who at least was also an alum, Class of 1967). This was quite a radical departure, and it seemed to set a new, airier tone. For example, children’s book author J.K. Rowling got the honor in 2008.

And now for 2013 we have (drum roll please) former talk show host and current philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.

If the reaction to Rowling in 2008 is any guide, some Harvard students are going to feel disgruntled:

“I think we could have done better,” shrugged computer science major Kevin Bombino. He says Rowling lacks the gravitas a Harvard commencement speaker should have.

“You know, we’re Harvard. We’re like the most prominent national institution. And I think we should be entitled to … we should be able to get anyone. And in my opinion, we’re settling here. “…

[Senior Andy Vaz said] “They should have picked a leader to speak at commencement. Not a children’s writer. What does that say to the class of 2008? Are we the joke class?”

The trajectory is clear: pop culture has won out. These are the new leaders. After all, Harvard says so.

36 Responses to “Harvard Commencement Day speakers: upward and onward”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    As they say in Yellowstone: “Once a bear is hooked on garbage, there’s no cure.”

  2. DirtyJobsGuy Says:

    More importantly this is a captive audience, you don’t have to sell tickets so why not have someone with something serious to say. Maybe it’s that outside of pop culture, no one recognizes leaders in other fields any more. Also, if you stray too far you may get into trouble on the political left for picking say a General or industrialist.

  3. RickZ Says:

    Low Information Voters = The American Idol electorate.

    Money now equals intelligence. Of course, Hollyweird puts false to that claim. So does a progressive like Nanny BloomingIdiot.

  4. neo-neocon Says:

    DirtyJobsGuy: I’m surprised they haven’t asked George Soros. Or maybe Bill Ayers.

    Maybe they have, and they’ve refused :-).

    I’m wondering, though, who today would be the equivalent of some of the speakers of the past. I’m sure such people exist, but I’m hard-pressed to think of them. I think they try to avoid holders of current office, although sometimes it’s done.

    How about the retired pope?

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    By the way, I have no recollection of the speakers at any of my many graduations, except that they were boring.

    In college, I was hungover as well. It was also about 100 degrees out, and muggy.

  6. George Pal Says:

    The bottom’s in sight: a Kardashian. It could be worse it could be Muhammad Badie.

  7. artfldgr Says:

    there is another clear trend if you look at the list..

    (1844) Charles Lyell.
    “Like Hutton, Lyell viewed the history of Earth as being vast and directionless. And the history of life was no different.”
    Lyell had an equally profound effect on our understanding of life’s history. He influenced Darwin so deeply that Darwin envisioned evolution as a sort of biological uniformitarianism. Evolution took place from one generation to the next before our very eyes, he argued, but it worked too slowly for us to perceive.

    Another element that went into the Fabian view, a current which they could turn into their own stream, was the evolutionary the­ory of development. For several decades prior to the organization of the Society, the evolutionary conception of things had been gaining sway, particularly as a re­sult of Hegel’s philosophy of his­tory, Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics, and Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and Descent of Man. Evolutionary theories were particularly important to utopians and socialists because they could be interpreted so as to give the impression that every­thing was changing, that nothing was fixed, and that all things were possible. This was another source and support, too, of the notion of making changes gradually. In view of the currency of these ideas, “it was only to be expected that the Fabians would avail themselves of these ideas to justify their pro­gramme. The extent to which they did so may be seen in several theoretical Tracts written for the Society at different times by Sid­ney Webb, and also in Fabian Essays….”

  8. artfldgr Says:

    John Stuart Mill.

    It is true that with the collapse of the Chartist movement in 1848, all serious agitation of a Socialist character came to an end, and for thirty years popular aspirations in England took the forms of a development of trades unions, the progress of co-operative distributive stores and building societies, in conjunction with the purely political agitation for the Parliamentary franchise. But the Socialist leaven was still at work. The Chartist survivors continued to be centres of quiet education of their comrades. The ideas of Marx and Lassalle filtered in through French and German refugees, as well as through the personal influence of Marx himself on a select few. The latter influence of the Political Economists, notably that of John Stuart Mill(1) gradually prepared the public mind for Socialist proposals, especially on the subject of the “unearned increment” of land values.

    1 See the explicit confession of his conversion, as he says, from mere Democracy to Socialism (Autobiography, p. 231-2) and the change in tone shown in Book IV. of the Political Economy (Popular Edition 1865.)

    – Sidney Webb

    so lets take a look at the book…

    The notion that it was possible to go further than this in removing the injustice—for injustice it is, whether admitting of a complete remedy or not—involved in the fact that some are born to riches and the vast majority to poverty, I then reckoned chimerical, and only hoped that by universal education, leading to voluntary restraint on population, the portion of the poor might be made more tolerable. In short, I was a democrat, but not the least of a Socialist. We were now much less democrats than I had been, because so long as education continues to be so wretchedly imperfect, we dreaded the ignorance and especially the selfishness and brutality of the mass: but our ideal of ultimate improvement went far beyond Democracy, and would class us decidedly under the general designation of Socialists. While we repudiated with the greatest energy that tyranny of society over the individual which most Socialistic systems are supposed to involve, we yet looked forward to a time when society will no longer be divided into the idle and the industrious; when the rule that they who do not work shall not eat, will be applied not to paupers only, but impartially to all; when the division of the produce of labour, instead of depending, as in so great a degree it now does, on the accident of birth, will be made by concert on an acknowledged principle of justice; and when it will no longer either be, or be thought to be, impossible for human beings to exert themselves strenuously in procuring benefits which are not to be exclusively their own, but to be shared with the society they belong to. The social problem of the future we considered to be, how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour

    of course those reading may be thrown off by the end part of socialists not caring for the poor and feeding them and so on… but thats cause they are selling you on it… and the ones who are conversant with it, not conversant with the characature would remember.

    He who does not work, neither shall he eat,_neither_shall_he_eat

    According to Lenin, “He who does not work shall not eat” is a necessary principle under socialism, the preliminary phase of the evolution towards communist society. The phrase appears in his 1917 work, The State and Revolution. Through this slogan Lenin explains that in socialist states only productive individuals could be allowed access to the articles of consumption.

    So those who study and know… know

  9. Jan of MN Says:

    I’m embarrassed to confess that until today I believed that Conan O’Brien was the speaker at the 2000 Harvard Commencement. He did address the Harvard 2000 class, but on the day before: .

  10. Sam L. Says:

    Another nail in the coffin of “why should we care about Harvard”.

  11. Sam L. Says:

    It was suicide, Ma’am. I’m sorry to tell you that, but that’s the truth of it.

  12. artfldgr Says:

    Thomas Carlyle

    Thomas Carlyle is notable both for his continuation of older traditions of the Tory satirists of the 18th century in England and for forging a new tradition of Victorian era criticism of progress known as sage writing.

    just note that one of the largest organizations for Critical theory and such, is called SAGE… (they love word games because it makes an idiot of you, and you are ignorant of it, and they know the game, so they twitter and feel superior for knowing what the rube doesnt)

    Sage writing is a development from ancient wisdom literature in which the writer chastises and instructs the reader about contemporary social issues, often utilizing discourses of philosophy, history, politics, and economics in non-technical ways. Prominent examples of the genre include writings by Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin, and Henry David Thoreau. Some 20th-century writers, such as Joan Didion and New Journalists such as Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, have also been identified as sage writers.

    bet you didnt knw the bs they subjecvt you to is that old and has many names as its tried, opposed, and resurrected.

    Holloway identified Thomas Carlyle as the originator of the genre, but traced its origins back to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He argued that Carlyle “wants to state, and to clinch, the basic tenets of a ‘Life-Philosophy’, of something that will veritably transform men’s outlook”

    Carlyle established a model whereby the writer makes non-logical arguments about contemporary social issues, drawing from various forms of modern knowledge and traditional wisdom.

    this is why they dont listen to the public argue things.
    the argument the public is trying to have on these things now, was settled by them long ago.. and since the public does not have concordance and lineage with prior arguments they are just dweebs rehashing what greater minds had worked out and decided.

    ergo… ignore you.

    sage writing can be distinguished from traditional wisdom literature in that “Whereas the pronouncements of traditional wisdom literature always take as their point of departure the assumption that they embody the accepted, received wisdom of an entire society, the pronouncements of the biblical prophet and Victorian sage begin with the assumption that, however traditional their messages may once have been, they are now forgotten or actively opposed by society. “[2] The sage borrows from the Old Testament prophets what Landow identifies as a four part strategy of “interpretation, attack upon the audience (or those in authority), warning, and visionary promise.”

    see? its a process.
    now.. anyone want to compare the speeches of obama?

    first is his start where he gives his folksie interpretation… then he attacks… then he warns… then he gives his visionary promise…

    old stuff… but we are trained to ignore old. no?
    only new, fresh, you, etc…
    which is great for people like obama, because no one can call him out on it, and even if they did, everyone else would look dumfounded… except the leaders who got poly sci degrees…

    its funny, but if you have studies this, then you get the tiny inside jokes they insert all the time.
    [edited for length]

  13. artfldgr Says:

    darn blockquotes..

    Leslie Stephen

    Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London in 1882 to Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson).

    bet you didnt know that Virginia Woolfe the famed feminist icon and hero was the daughter of…

    Virginia’s father, Sir Leslie Stephen (1832–1904), was a notable historian, author, critic and mountaineer.[1] He was the editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work which would influence Woolf’s later experimental biographies.

    Woolf was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington. Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Julia had three children by her first husband, Herbert Duckworth: George, Stella, and Gerald Duckworth. Leslie first married Harriet Marian (Minny) Thackeray (1840–1875), the daughter of William Thackeray, and they had one daughter: Laura Makepeace Stephen, who was declared mentally disabled and lived with the family until she was institutionalised in 1891.[3] Leslie and Julia had four children together: Vanessa Stephen (1879), Thoby Stephen (1880), Virginia (1882), and Adrian Stephen (1883).

    does the fruit fall far from the tree?

    Sir Leslie Stephen’s eminence as an editor, critic, and biographer, and his connection to William Thackeray, meant that his children were raised in an environment filled with the influences of Victorian literary society. Henry James, George Henry Lewes, and Virginia’s honorary godfather, James Russell Lowell, were among the visitors to the house. Julia Stephen was equally well connected. Descended from an attendant of Marie Antoinette, she came from a family of beauties who left their mark on Victorian society as models for Pre-Raphaelite artists and early photographers, including her aunt Julia Margaret Cameron who was also a visitor to the Stephen household. Supplementing these influences was the immense library at the Stephens’ house, from which Virginia and Vanessa were taught the classics and English literature. Unlike the girls, their brothers Adrian and Julian (Thoby) were formally educated and sent to Cambridge, a difference which Virginia would resent. The sisters did, however, benefit indirectly from their brothers’ Cambridge contacts, as the boys brought their new intellectual friends home to the Stephens’ drawing room.

    now… isnt it funny that all these heirs to aristocracy and the elite, are making a new aristocracy and elite?

    “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”
    ― Virginia Woolf

    “Why are women… so much more interesting to men than men are to women?”
    ― Virginia Woolf

    “As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
    ― Virginia Woolf

    “Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”
    ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

    she is the woman i refer to when i mention modern feminists are going to end up lonely old women with rationed care sitting in a tiny room alone but of ones own.

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    artfldgr: I was making a completely different point from the one you’re making. I made it quite explicit that the point of view of the speakers was not the subject of this particular post (I think we all know about the leftward drift of a place like Harvard that’s been going on for a very long time). My point was about the fact that, whatever their biases and opinions and points of view, there’s been a decline in the seriousness of their fields of study and/or achievement, whether they are still well-known today or not.

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    artfldgr: and of course I know that Virginia Woolf was his daughter; anyone who’s ever read a biography or even biographical sketch of Virginia Woolf would know that.

    In fact, I originally was going to put in little biographical details about each person, but it was getting too long and so I just linked to their Wiki entries so that if anyone is curious he/she could look it up easily.

    I am really really getting tired of your assumptions of lack of knowledge on my part, and on the part of the other commenters here. What is it about?

  16. artfldgr Says:

    Webb also pointed out Mill’s importance to Socialism in Fabian Tract 15.

    Is there then no hope? Is there no chance of the worker ever being released from the incubus of what Mill called,1 “the great social evil of a non labouring class,” whose monopolies cause the taxation of the industrious for the support of indolence, if not of plunder?2

    Mill tells us how, as he investigated more closely the history and structure of Society, he came to find a sure and certain hope in the Progress of Socialism, which he foresaw and energetically aided. We who call ourselves Socialists today in England, largely through Mill’s teaching and example, find a confirmation of this hope in social history and economics, and see already in the distance the glad vision of a brighter day, when, practically, the whole product of labour will be the worker’s and the worker’s alone, and at last social arrangements will be deliberately based upon the Apostolic rule ignored by so many Christians, that if a man do not work, neither shall he eat.

    bet most never knew that there were fabian tracts and things… despite my saying to read this stuff and their plans… much like journolist. or rad fem hub… they collude… what do you think consensus is? collusion with a nice face…

    both Mill and henry George came to the same conclusion: private ownership of property was an impediment to “progress”.

    We maintain a close connection with the active Fabian Society in Japan, which issues many tracts and publications, unfortunately not readable by anyone in our circle; and with the Escuela Xueva, a Spanish Society founded on similar lines to our own, and carrying on active propaganda in that country, including the translation and publication of some of the best known Fabian tracts. The Gesellschafl fur Sozialforschung, of Frankfort, Germany, is still affiliated to us, and we continue active relations with that body; with the League for Industrial Democracy of New York, which carries on active propaganda in the United States on very similar lines to our own work here ; and also with the newly established Fabian Club at Auckland, New Zealand. Our relations with the Labour and Socialist International remain unchanged and as described in our last and some previous reports.
    the 46th annual report, March 31st, 1929

    now… what happens then that is happening now?

    by the way…
    the League for Industrial Democracy LID
    became the SDS…
    the weathermen..
    [edited for length]

  17. nolanimrod Says:

    Copybook Headings, anyone?

  18. artfldgr Says:

    I am really really getting tired of your assumptions of lack of knowledge on my part, and on the part of the other commenters here. What is it about?

    lets see…
    you just described you left out the info
    and told me post event you did
    so what am i to assume as a default?

    omniscience? that would solve the problem of my thinking you dont know something you dont express, dont clue us in on, dont have a concordance i can look up, and may not remember other things yous aid that would imply this.

    Do note that when i talk to people who DO know things, we tend to fall into a conversation that then relies on those things and so on… that dont happen here. what happens here is you write, its short, you leave stuff out, i think you dont know it as you left it out, so i decide to follow the social script of putting somethiong interesting into the conversation (as conversations should not be all opinion and no substance), and then you get upset i assumed what you yourself just said you left out. was not known.

    i wish you would go out your door, and ask some people you bump into who these people are…

    i live in a world where people are claiming that obama deporting the sequester to cuba was a good idea!!!

    want to know how people like that get through life and not get pegged as dumber than wood?

    they get indignant that someone assumes they dont know, and then get upset, and the skinnerian pattern of not pointing it out comes, and voila… by the way, it also works for illiteracy… it works to negate blame, etc…

    reminds me of benny hill..

    “i have never been so insulted in my life”
    Thats your fault, you ought to get out more often…

    i find neurotupicals with their crappy memory of even what they say and do drive me nuts… they dont even see what they do, so used to looking at others.

    i really dont know how to fix it
    i will never know that when you leave something out you know it.

    i will switch my tack…
    i will assume omniscience…

    i will also try to remember that absence of information is not really absence of information, its actually evidence of volumes of it, and assume that…

    i am sorry i implied a woman was not equal and didnt know something…

    I’ve left out ones you’re unlikely to have heard of, which mostly occur in the early years anyway, and selected out the most illustrious, but the pattern is very clear.

    i am really getting tired at your assumptions of what people here know and dont know…


    even funnier, you assumed they don’t know, and rather than give them the information, you decided to let them be less smart, lower down in knowledge, and below you.

    when i assume they don’t know, i don’t tell them they don’t know then not give them the answers preserving the asymmetry of power

    by the way, the method you used and said, can be used by a person who doesnt know, to fake they know… as the information they claim to know, is not presented!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    most people will not assume others are omniscient
    people who protest too much, often are deflecting
    missing stuff is missing..

    after you discuss what you know, and dont leave out the details i am trying to put in, then i wont add them…

    show you know, and i have no reason to comment
    dont show you know, then i ahve to guess…
    you ignore when i guess right. accepting the interesting fact
    you get peeved when i guess wrong, wanting me to read minds

    sorry, but given different lives, ages, educational paths, the social average and so on… there is no way for me to know for me to adjust.

    do note that your probably not liking aspergers bluntness, and are used to people who could tell you facts you know, and not be blunt to you as to why they are doing it!!!

    i do notice that the way normal people work, that if you can wrap it up well, they will just ignore it… or love you despite the equivalence.

    i am not the only one that does that..
    as the sentence you posted shows
    i am just less tactful about it..
    so the norm is hyper sensitive and response.

    i bet i did put information you didnt know up there
    but you dont focus on THAT…

    i really wish i knew waht assumptions are normal..
    all i have is logic, and a memory of what people say

    and most people talk so much they cant remember what they said, or what it implies, etc. in fact, they often miss what they imply!!! completely ignorant… i have watched people get caught in serious trouble as what they said seems ok… until you think and a few steps down the line realize what it is implying…

    sorry i assumed what you didn’t say reference or clue in you didn’t know

    though i guess all conversation ends the minute we assume you know, as there is nothing to talk about, you already know…

  19. Mead Says:

    I think university administrators often secretly hope commencement speakers will feel so honored to be chosen that they’ll make generous donations to the institution that has recognized their greatness. Both Oprah and Rowling could easily endow a professorship or build a dorm.

    On the other hand, if there’s one university that doesn’t need to worry about fundraising, it’s Harvard.

  20. neo-neocon Says:

    artfldgr: you don’t have to assume omniscience (something I’ve never claimed). Just assume I’m neither dumb, ignorant, nor naive.

    Also: read what I write. In the post I attempted to indicate (briefly) that I was not going into the people’s politics, etc., on this list, because it wasn’t relevant to my point, which was their gravitas (leading up, of course, to the end point of the post, which was the contrast of the selection of the lacking-in-gravitas Rowling and then Winfrey):

    Whether you agree or disagree with the choices and approve or disapprove of their achievements and/or politics, there’s no denying this was a group with gravitas.

    And why on earth would you assume I don’t know who Leslie Stephens is—why do you think I included him?

    And it’s not just this post; it’s not just this list. It has happened over and over and over lately, and as I said above, it’s not something you used to do in the comments here. Your assumptions that I (or others) don’t know things just because we don’t list everything we know is new within the last year or two, as far as I can see.

    I’m not sure what the reason is, but I’ve addressed it before in the comments section here. Perhaps you missed that comment, but in it I suggested that you just offer the information you’re wanting to offer without suggesting that people are ignorant of what you’re about to say.

    That would be an extremely simple solution, one that would assume neither omniscience nor ignorance on the part of other people. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way—I actually do think it would be a good solution to your dilemma.

    One more thing—speaking of assumptions, you wrote this:

    i am sorry i implied a woman was not equal and didnt know something…

    If you’ve read any of my posts you ought to know that’s not the way I think, and not at all the basis for what I’m saying here.

    And of course you put some information up that I didn’t know before—but not only do I not ignore that fact, but I have stated time and again that is exactly the reason you are here as a commenter despite the problems that sometimes arise: because you have a wealth of information that I think has value.

    So, as I said (and have said before), a good rule of thumb for you would be to offer the information without the statements that other people are probably ignorant of it. Sometimes they will be ignorant of it, sometimes not. You don’t know which it will be in any particular case.

  21. neo-neocon Says:

    Mead: good point.

    Oprah certainly does have deep pockets.

    But not as deep as Harvard’s :-).

  22. rickl Says:

    I’ve about reached the point where I think an Ivy League degree should be an outright disqualification for public office.

    There are plenty of lesser-known private universities, state colleges, and trade schools which produce intelligent, educated, and eminently qualified graduates. Why not give them a chance?

    For that matter, I don’t believe that the Constitution stipulates that a President, Senator, or Congressman even needs to be a high school graduate in the first place, let alone a Harvard or Yale graduate. We could hardly do worse than what we have now.

  23. parker Says:

    “I’ve about reached the point where I think an Ivy League degree should be an outright disqualification for public office.”

    28th amendment? Sounds good to me. 😉

  24. Lizzy Says:

    My BIL graduated from Harvard Law School in the 90’s and was disgusted with the speaker: Ted Turner. Ted basically rambled (clearly unprepared) and even included a ‘cute’ story about a recent bout of diarrhea. The ceremony also included a student speaker who delivered his speech in Latin, who managed to keep everyone entertained by slipping in many well-known Latin phrases, such as ‘e pluribus unum.’
    One of my siblings also worked for Harvard as a fundraiser and had the pleasure of dealing with one of the speakers you’ve listed. Apparently it wasn’t enough for him to receive the honor of an invitation to speak at his daughter’s graduation, he also wanted to be paid. Tres gauche!

  25. nyc Says:

    Another great idea and higher ed issue hijacked, like the fascinating Paul Rahe and Jean Yarbrough threads that were recently ruined.

    Blog killer artdgr’s babble. same rude, snarky, semi-deranged content and tone. I don’t know why it is allowed to continue. I reject the blog’s contention that these diatribes contain worthy information, illuminate the topic, or somehow move the conversation substantively and constructively, even do once in a while.

    Once maybe they did – now and for quite a while it’s just been insults and angry shouting at blog’s expense, driving readers away.

  26. rickl Says:


    I don’t know about you, but my scroll wheel and Page Down buttons work fine, when I choose to use them. Sometimes I choose not to.

    Where Art may be treading on thin ice is when he criticizes Neo for what she does or doesn’t say in her posts. But that’s ultimately her call.

    I still maintain that he contributes much more than he detracts from this blog.

  27. gpc31 Says:

    Like Neo, I was too hungover to remember who spoke at my graduation. Turned out to be Paul Volcker; must not have been too memorable.

    Back in the “old days” Harvard was occasionally liberal enough to invite the likes of Solzhenitsyn (commencement 1978 address, truly prophetic) and Mother Teresa (class day speaker in 1982). I particularly enjoyed the apoplectic reactions of my friends to her anti-abortion speech. “How inappropriate!” they sputtered.

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    nyc: well, there still is sometimes some interesting information in artfldgr’s comments. Not always, but often.

    I understand, though, if a person wants to scroll past and not deal with it at all. But surely it’s not so very hard to scroll past if you’re so inclined?

    As a general rule, I tend to err on the side of letting people post here, as long as they’re not outright abusive or obscene.

  29. Charles Says:

    Neo, you’re right in that “pop culture” seems to be winning out.

    I wonder what a similiar list of speakers would look like at the other Ivy Leagues, such as Princeton, etc. Are they heading in the same direction?

    As for my own graduation, I remember a little bit of the speeches; but not too much. I do remember the part about telling parents to “let go, your son or daughter is no longer a child.” Do they need to send that message out to parents even more today?

    But, what I most remember is that one of the Dean’s (the one we shook hands with) was missing fingers on his right hand. The look on some of my fellow graduates faces was appalling, just down-right ignorant, as they had this look of horror as they shook hands; their jaws would drop almost hitting the floor!

    I was very disgusted by such behaviour and hoped that I didn’t have the same reaction. I also remember thinking: “so much for their college education; they didn’t learn a damn thing about how to treat others.” So much for “diversity” and inclusion.” Let’s just treat the guy as a freak!

    Then I wondered if this wasn’t some sort of “final exam.” Would we pass? Would our behaviour, in fact, show that we had “matured”? If it was a test, I hoped that I had passed. or in the very least, showed a little more respect than my fellow graduates.

  30. SteveH Says:

    Artfldgr has the peculiar issue of not being able to see the tree for the forest.

  31. Trimegistus Says:

    Harvard has been making itself irrelevant for half a century now, and it seems to be working.

  32. Baltimoron Says:

    Its my opinion that popular culture has always been winning. At best people from the academy could give a clear voice to popular sentiments. At worse, they were just chasing the crowd.
    However, as long as we had somewhat limited social mobility and access to information in this country, the people at the top could convince themselves they were something special.
    That’s no longer the case. So the academy (in the form of art galleries, the ivies, whatever) has to engage popular culture on its terms, or admit they’re unnecessary. And either way they lose.

  33. Don Carlos Says:

    Harvard is one of the premier elitist institutions that gave us “Sex Week”, paying for a week of porn, featuring “sex workers”, etc. Others have joined: Yale, Duke, and now public institutions like Tennessee.

  34. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Yale and Harvard links…

    Measuring One’s Own Yalieness Harvard Commencement Day speakers: upward and onward…

  35. RonF Says:

    Let’s compare that recent list with the one from the school down the street:

    2010 Mar. 16 Raymond S. Stata, founder of Analog Devices
    2009 Feb. 10 Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Governor
    2008 Dec. 7 Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner
    2007 Mar. 13 Charles M. Vest, professor of Mechanial Engineering (at the time) and former president of MIT
    2006 Dec. 13 Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of Federal Reserve Board
    2005 Apr. 12 Irwin Jacobs, co-founder/chairman/CEO of Qualcomm
    2004 Mar. 9 Elias Zerhouni, Director of NIH
    2003 Apr. 1 George Mitchell, former US Senator
    2002 Feb. 26 James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank
    2001 Mar. 23 Daniel Goldin, NASA Administrator
    2000 Mar. 14 Carly Fiorina, President & CEO, Hewlett-Packard
    1999 Apr. 2 Tom & Ray Magliozzi, MIT alums and hosts of NPR’s “Car Talk”
    1998 Feb. 24 William Jefferson Clinton, US President, and David Ho, AIDS
    1997 Jan. 29 Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General
    1996 Mar. 1 Albert Gore, Vice President of the United States
    1995 Apr. 21 Hanna H. Gray, President Emeritus of the University of Chicago
    1994 Feb. 15 Karim Aga Khan IV, spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims
    1993 Jan. 13 Carlos Salinas de Gortari, President of the United Mexican States
    1992 Mar. 31 Leslie Aspin, Congressman from Wisconsin; chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
    1991 Mar. 13 Walter E. Massey, director of the National Science Foundation
    1990 Dec. 5 Virgilio Barco, President of the Republic of Colombia
    1989 Feb. 14 Paul E. Tsongas, chairman of the Board of Regents of Higher Education of Massachusetts; former US Senator from Massachusetts
    1988 Feb. 12 A. Bartlett Giamatti, president of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs; former president of Yale University
    1987 Feb. 3 Kenneth H. Olsen, founder and president of Digital Equipment Corp.
    1986 Feb. 4 William R. Hewlett, vice chairman of the board of directors, Hewlett-Packard.
    1985 Jan. 23 Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of the board and CEO, Chrysler Corp.
    1984 Feb. 7 Shirley Chisholm, former Congresswoman of Brooklyn, NY
    1983 Feb. 8 Helmut Schmidt, former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
    1982 Mar. 5 Katharine Graham, chairman of the board and CEO, Washington Post Co.
    1981 Mar. 20 Paul E. Gray, MIT president elected that academic year

  36. Suresh Babu Gaddam Says:

    Suresh Babu Gaddam

    neo-neocon » Blog Archive » Harvard Commencement Day speakers: upward and onward

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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