One of the greatest joys of being a college instructor is seeing your students graduate. Over the past couple of weeks, my social media news feeds have been full of happy and proud faces of recent graduates and their families. It’s a time of celebration and a time of transition. One ritual shared by colleges everywhere is the delivery of a commencement address by a well-known speaker. The commencement address is meant to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishment, to encourage them to keep chasing their dreams, and to inspire them to conquer life’s challenges that are sure to come. Some speakers are well-liked while others are not, but the speaker isn’t the most important part of the commencement address; it’s the message.
As a public speaking instructor, I try to emphasize that last point to my students. The speaker is not the most important part of any speech; it’s the message. I try to get them to understand regardless of who is delivering the presentation, try to avoid being distracted from the message. Focus and listen to what they’re saying, especially if you disagree with them. Listening to alternate points of view, having our own views challenged, giving others the opportunity to speak is how we continue to grow. It’s how we continue to learn. It’s how a democracy is kept a democracy.
Imagine my disappointment at reading the news publicizing some of the recent graduation ceremonies around the nation where graduates either walked out before the delivery of the commencement address or worse, disrupted the speech itself by standing up and turning their backs on the speaker or loudly booing during the speech. These behaviors are not admirable. The actions are not the actions of the brave. And for the students who are next to graduate, please consider the following reasons walking out on or disrupting a speech is not a good idea.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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