A Commencement Speech for the Record Books (and the Lesson Planners)

Alison Morris - May 27, 2008

A week ago I spent a wonderful three days at my alma mater, Smith College, catching up with fellow members of my graduating class at our delightful 10-year reunion. The general consensus was that none of us could believe 10 years had passed so quickly! It seems like it was only yesterday that our class processed into the Quadrangle wearing matching caps and gowns, eagerly awaiting the diplomas we’d receive only AFTER we managed to sit through a terribly clichéd and uninspiring speech by that year’s commencement speaker, Elizabeth Dole.

Fortunately when members of the Smith College class of 2008 return for THEIR 10-year reunion a shockingly short time from now, THEY will not have to roll their eyes at the memory of words tossed their way en route to Diplomaland. They will no doubt look back with great fondness on the speech by the accomplished woman selected to salute them and send them on their way. They were treated to the genius, cleverness and well-chosen words of Margaret Edson (Smith College class of 1983), playwright and kindergarten teacher extraordinaire.

If you’re thinking Edson’s name sounds familiar, it could be because in 1999 she won a little award called the Pulitzer for her superb play Wit. The play was also the recipient of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, and the Oppenheimer Award. In 2001 It was made into an HBO film starring Emma Thompson that won the Emmy that year for best TV movie.

If you ever have the chance to see Wit performed live, GO. Before you do that, read the script. And before you do THAT, watch Edson deliver her commencement speech for this year’s Smith graduates. (Don’t just read the transcript, WATCH it!) Doing so will give you a taste of her (what else?) wit, a sense of her precision with language, an understanding of her gift for delivery, and hopefully an enhanced appreciation for teachers (if you don’t already appreciate them to their full extent, which you should).

To all you educators out there, Edson’s speech is a brilliant nod to you and the work that you do. After you’ve watched it, be sure to share it with others who’ll appreciate it too.

2 thoughts on “A Commencement Speech for the Record Books (and the Lesson Planners)

  1. ShelfTalker

    Ruth, Do you have Flash installed on your computer? If not, that could be the problem. The link on the words “commencement speech” above takes you to the 2008 Commencement page on the Smith.edu website. From there you should be able to click on a link that reads “Watch the video of Margaret Edson’s 2008 Commencement Address.” If Flash is installed on your computer the video will begin playing as soon as you click that link.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *