For graduation: Sound of silence

by | Apr 16, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Mitch Albom tells how hard it is to find commencement speakers these days

For graduation: Sound of silence

TO: ________

RE: Commencement Speech

Dear ________

Congratulations! We here at ______ University would like to invite you to be our commencement speaker. This, as you know, is a great honor. You would join the ranks of ______ last year and ______ the year before and also _______, who was going to be our speaker this year, but, unfortunately, had to be dropped due to protest from the student body. Not the entire student body. Certain members. Seven members, to be exact. Seven loud, sign-waving, endlessly blogging members.

But we here at ______ University think every voice should count.

Would your voice be available next Sunday?

Before you commit (well, to be honest, before we commit) we’d like to confirm a few small things. Just standard questions. You understand.

For example, have you ever owned a gun, fired a gun, asked someone else to fire a gun or taken away a gun? Have you ever told anyone at a cocktail party that guns should be outlawed or that everyone should have at least eight guns in their kitchen, and, if so, what are the chances there was a tape recorder at that cocktail party?

If you answered “no,” great! The deal’s still on. Please continue. Just a few more.

Skeletons in the past?

Are you currently straight, gay, bi or transgender, or have you ever been straight, gay, bi or transgender? If you answered “yes” or “no,” that’s fine. If you answered “Hell, no,” we would like to withdraw our offer.

Have you ever expressed an opinion on conservative politicians, liberal politicians, the president, the vice president, foreign leaders or foreign secretaries? Have you ever dated your secretary?

Still “no”? Wonderful. This only confirms what an excellent choice you are for our commencement.

Just a few more items.

Have you ever made a comment about race, slavery, immigration, religion, atheism, cannibalism or witchcraft?

Have you ever e-mailed, tweeted, posted, Facebooked, blogged or Instagrammed any thoughts on pornography? Have you ever posed in any state of undress? Have you ever stuck a camera down your pants and sent that to someone?

Just standard questions.

Only a few more.

The Snooki Factor?

You understand our concern, of course. With the recent cancellation of commencement speakers at Swarthmore (Robert Zoellick, the former World Bank president) and Johns Hopkins (Ben Carson, the world-renowned neurosurgeon) we can’t be too careful. After all, Zoellick was protested over his previous support of the Iraq war. And Carson withdrew after making comments about gay marriage on the Sean Hannity show.

No one is safe. There have been protests over President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama and Sarah Palin speaking. Even James Franco, the actor, was heavily criticized when speaking at UCLA. And that’s in Los Angeles! They love movies out there!

By the way, have you ever been in a movie – one that we should know about, that is? A small film? Involving nudity of any kind?

Do you drive a Prius? Not mandatory. But it would help.

And have you ever been on “Jersey Shore”? We all remember the fuss when Snooki talked at Rutgers. I’m sure you agree: We don’t want that!

Because after all, this is about the students, right? All the students. Every blessed, single, angry, vocal, opinionated, self-indulgent one of the students –

Sorry. This has been a frustrating process. To be honest, we are only asking you after striking out with ______ and ______ and all nine members of ______ and the entire cast of ______.

Assuming you have made it this far, please accept our offer of a cap, gown and hood, plus a wonderful spread of coffee and assorted pastries.

We regret to say there is no speaker’s fee, as too many students protested that we could better use the money on something important, like HBO for their dormitories.

Looking forward to the wisdom you will impart to our graduates. Kindly remember: no cursing, blue humor or compliments of any kind about a person’s looks.

Oh. And if you exceed 15 minutes, your microphone will be cut off, in fairness to the Short Attention Span Club.

Remember, inclusive, inclusive, inclusive! It’s what makes our university so exclusive.

Warm regards,


Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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