This has been the year for people not speaking at graduations.

First there was Condoleezza Rice, who withdrew from the Rutgers University commencement after some students and faculty protested the former secretary of state for her role in the invasion of Iraq.

Then Christine LaGarde, one of the world’s most powerful women, bowed out of her speech at Smith College after some students protested her role as head of the International Monetary Fund, and IMF policies that predate her tenure.

And now you can add the name of Charlie Gauvin, the Portland High School senior class president who will not be speaking at Portland High’s graduation Wednesday because of some ill-considered comments he posted on Facebook. It seems that in an attempt to dissuade his classmates from drinking and driving on Senior Skip Day (a school tradition, but not an official one), he appeared to be condoning underage drinking.

In Gauvin’s case, it was not the students but the administrators who protested, providing a lot of valuable lessons for anyone who is ready to learn them. Among them:

n There is no such thing as “private” on Facebook


n Because of things like falls, drownings, fights, poisoning and the risk of addiction, underage drinking is a really bad way for young people to celebrate, whether they drive or not.

n Graduation speakers don’t get as much attention as the people who are forced not to speak.

Speaking at a graduation is an almost impossible task because it’s a emotionally heightened event marking a transition that hasn’t really happened yet. Are they kids? Are they adults? A little of both.

Whatever is said from the stage washes over the minds of the new graduates and their families, who are flooded with feelings about what has just happened and what lies ahead.

Unless you graduated from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, with the class of ’46, and heard Winston Churchill deliver the “Iron Curtain” speech, you probably can’t remember anything said on the day you got your diploma. Even some of those graduates were probably wondering how quickly they could ditch their parents and get to the party while the great man was speaking.

News is all about surprise, and the class president not speaking at graduation is always going to be a bigger story than the class president who does.


It’s my dream to someday be important enough to be asked not to speak at a graduation. The speech I wouldn’t be able to deliver would make these points:

n The only reason to smoke is that it makes you look older. You will soon see why that is undesirable. If you smoke, quit while you’re young.

n Most of you worry too much. Things have a way of working out, and the things you dread now can turn out to be pretty good.

n Some of you don’t worry enough. The world is not going to wait for you forever – get going!

n You will spend much of your life trying to figure out which group you belong to.

n Ask a lot of questions. People like it when you show an interest in them, and asking for advice makes them feel important.


n Try not to give any advice. No one ever wants to hear it, especially after they’ve done something stupid.

n Graduation speeches are mostly advice.

I’ll be attending Portland High School’s graduation Wednesday, not as a journalist, but as a parent. I’ll be celebrating my kid and her classmates, who are mostly the nonspeaking-from-the-podium kind.

I will applaud the valedictorian, and the salutatorian and the class vice president, who has been drafted to make a speech on short notice. Anyone who has ever been called on in class when they weren’t raising their hands will be rooting for him ferociously.

I expect, like other parents, I will be bursting with amazed pride to see someone who I used to carry around on my shoulders now walking off on her own toward a new life.

It’s not really the end of parenthood, but I feel like I can see the end of it from here.


I expect that there will be many smiles and few tears and that heady mix of looking back and looking ahead that makes the graduation ceremony so powerful, no matter who speaks.

Or even who doesn’t.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.