Grading the Graduation Speeches

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For most of our readers, the graduation ceremonies have finished, and after watching all the webcasts, we still can’t tell them apart. They all have graduates throwing things/falling asleep/not paying attention, administrators reminding said graduates about the opportunities that await them, and lots of light blue and school pride. The one area that does have the potential to make a ceremony slightly worth your time (besides the diploma, of course, and the post-ceremony family gifts) is the speech. But did this year’s selection make people perk up their ears, or drop their heads? (photo from acordova on Flickr)

SEAS Class Day – James Albaugh, Executive Vice-President, Boeing: Allbaugh started off nonchalantly, joking about the absence of the West End, and his lack of academic success while at Columbia (Albaugh recieved a master’s from the engineering school in 1974). The first half of the speech focused on the problems Albaugh felt faced the new generation of engineers, including global warming, and he bemoaned how the United States is failing to keep pace in science education. The second half of the speech, however, could have been given to a new group of Boeing employees, as Albaugh moved through pieces of advice for anyone seeking a career in engineering. He even drew advice from how people become a “friend of Jim” at Boeing, and closed with a quote from a newspaper article about the first cross-country flight of a Boeing 707. In giving a thoroughly practical speech, Albaugh too often sounded like he was reading from a corporate memo. Grade: B-

Barnard College – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: The Barnard graduates greeted Clinton with a standing ovation, and she largely delivered. Noting that women are “reaching levels of achievement not seen before” (including a joke about Preakness-winning Rachel Alexandra), Clinton began with a short yet humorous retelling of Barnard’s early years, including a Times headline “College Girls Are Healthy, Normal American Girls.” The heart of her speech, though, focused on the “new era of diplomacy,” which “requires a new commitment to global service.” In particular, she urged the graduates to “support women worldwide who don’t have the resources you do, but whose lives and dreams are just as worthy as yours and mine.” She closed by reminding graduates that their generation had a “a future that women in the history of the world have never been able to imagine, that you leave here empowered in a way that women and girls have never been before.” Evocative without being overly dramatic, Clinton once again showed why she was such a powerful opponent for Obama. Grade: A-.

GS – Philipe Reines, Clinton senior adviser: Reines began with several jokes, including how he hid his speaking engagement from Clinton, and a ribbing of PrezBo for the “low-profile” nature of the Ahmadinejad visit. The speech, though, became his biography, as he chronicled his path through several different schools, being Al Gore’s TA, and assisting Hillary Clinton. His point was to debunk various bits of conventional wisdom, like “don’t let people see you sweat” and “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” but Reines meandered, and rarely brought the focus back to the graduates, except to say that they were probably like him in their “wandering” backgrounds. It was, however, shorter than the other speeches, which kept the schtick from wearing too thinly. Grade: B-

CC – Attorney General Eric Holder: Holder started with the right amount of Columbia history, including his wacky roomates in Carman and his participation in the occupation that led to the creation of the Malcolm X Lounge. Acknowledging “that tomorrow will be the last day that some of you spend on an academic campus as a student,” and that “you may never sit through another lecture or pull another all-nighter, fueled by nothing but caffeine and fear,” he urged graduates to be “a servant for the public good.” “The people who truly deserve our respect,” he declared, the people who work hard and play by the rules – who teach our children, who minister to us when we are ill, who go to work every day in search of a better life – these people are too often ignored. Make sure they are recognized and find ways to help them.” He concluded with various exhortations to help the “greater good,” and a quote from Tennyson. It was a conventional speech, but well-balanced speech, with one interesting sidenote: One of Holder’s first anecdotes, about a roomate who enjoyed “altering his consciousness,” does not appear in the trascript on the Attorney General’s website. Grade: B+

CommencementLee C. Bollinger: PrezBo began by recalling fondly how people gathered on Low Steps (“Columbia’s town square”) for both the presidential forum and the inauguration. The main focus was on freedom of speech, though why he chose the topic went unexplained. The Journalism School graduates particularly enjoyed this subject, roaring several times during his speech. Bollinger constructed a historical frame for his talk, connecting freedom of press and expression to the effectiveness of government. The speech began to sound like one given at a Washington dinner party, especially as he entailed specific proposals for increasing freedom in the global marketplace of ideas. Bollinger also bemoaned the end of print media as the death knell for serious journalism, a curious contrast to the rest of the speech’s comfort with historical inevitabilities. Grade: B

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  1. what about  

    the three jets that flew over/right near commencement. I couldn't tell the types of planes, but they looked like F-18s flying in a tight triangle. Two Ospreys flew over about 5 minutes later. The timing could not have been better.

  2. Fleet Week

    Those were for US Navy Fleet Week, which started today. An LHD and a DDG are docked down in Chelsea. Should be pretty awesome - and fortuitously timed.

  3. random

    why is bwog detailing barnard's commencement? random...

  4. Graduate  

    I didn't see the Barnard, SEAS, or GS speeches so I can't really speak to a comparative rating, but at CC Class Day and Commencement I heard two A-quality speeches. Bollinger's was marred somewhat by the obnoxious Journalism school cheering every time he described how screwed they are, but it was packed with literary allusions, contemporary relevance, and moving sentiment for the graduates. I was quite pleased. Holder was a class act, with a speech that managed to touch on important themes but remain light-hearted with his discussion of his own years at Columbia.

    In short, they both deserved an A.

  5. how  

    was Holder a B+? He remembered his room number in Carman ffs, and seemed truly passionate about CC. Bravo to him, unlike Clinton's generic political stuff.

  6. spec anyone???  

    hey does anyone know where one can get a copy of the class day copy of the spec? i couldn't find it anywhere on campus.

  7. BC 11  

    Why is Bwog half-assing the coverage of other schools? Either represent us all, in the spirit of community, or just leave us out of it. Pick a side Bwog!

  8. Barnard class day

    Sarah Besnoff's speech : A++.
    If only Barnard would take me...

  9. rachel wagner  

    i am dumb dehhrrr

  10. ahh

    just watched sarah's speech. incredible.

  11. yeah  

    Besnoff was by far the best speech of the week!

  12. Also

    Quigley's presentation of degree candidates was brilliant.

  13. Anonymous

    Where is the grade inflation?

  14. grad -> unemployed

    just saw some of the commencement webcast again, Katie Moore's national anthem is amazing, she's an incredible singer (first time I can recall hearing of her)... also, "New York, New York" at 1:47 is great. The rest... major snooze fest.

  15. Anonymous

    be smart. move the commencement to 8 am starting from next year. after four years in the college, why the kids have to suffer like that under the hot sun? any one in the developing countries would know about starting the business early in order to avoid the heat.

  16. Reines

    doesn't deserve even the B-. His speech was embarrassingly bad, and its low point was indisputably his bizarre explanation for why he couldn't tell HRC about speaking here. His message was platitudinous at best and insulting at worst.

    On the other hand David Hylden was the SHIT.

  17. lol  

    ugh is sarah besnoff the barnard student speaker? jeez my ears hurt watching that... can anyone say fake fake fake? all her lame analogies and you have become the best person in the world ugh

  18. nvm  

    nvm its the bitch before sarah, who is that? sarah was good and genuine

  19. um bwog  

    i'm sorry, this is a lot of horse shit. albaugh spoke like a normal person, which is difficult in a speech. he gave decent advice without boring you to death and was pretty entertaining in his 15 minutes. a B- is way too low. And I won't even try to understand how the hell you might put Holder in the B range. The Attorney General gave a speech entirely written for Columbia and then STAYED and shook every graduate's hand.

  20. sound system

    There was a terrible echo during PrezBo's speech. Apparently a lot of families couldn't even hear what he was saying. Please, if we ever have Obama speaking at Commencement or Class Day, can we make sure the speech is audible so it isn't met with silence like Bollinger's? (Though, Bollinger's actual speech didn't help.)

  21. Seriously...  

    Besnoff's speech was the best of the week. Far better than Hilary.

  22. meine grades?

    wo? wo? wo?

  23. annoyed observer

    I don't know why I even bother scrolling through bwog comments, but I am getting SO sick of the disgusting disrespect that CC students show to the rest of their peers, especially Barnard students. Bwog detailed Barnard's commencement because Barnard is PART OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, just like Teacher's College, SIPA, SEAS, and all of the graduate schools. Columbia is bigger than CC, though I know that stuck up pretentious CC students find that hard to believe. I understand the stereotype of "Barnard girls" and I certainly think it has a basis in truth. But really, the world is bigger than Columbia "College" and believe it or not there are smart people everywhere, EVEN AT BARNARD.

    • amused bystander  

      insecure much?

      • sigh

        immature much? no one likes being derided or belittled...and especially not by other students in their own academic community...especially when the basis for this is just pure arrogance!

    • none

      The part of Columbia community does not mean the part of Columbia University. Barnard is an independent college and does not BELONG to CU. I really don't understand why Barnard students always take it as offense when Columbia students say that Barnard is not part of Columbia University.

  24. wtf

    no, its the cc students who are insecure and feel the need to trash all other colleges to make themselves feel better.

  25. Unamused

    Barnard is not part of Columbia. It is affiliated.

    • dumb

      actually we are part of the university community as barnard is not an institution that could or was ever meant to survive without it's connection to columbia - it doesn't have enough of its own resources. anyway I can understand why columbia students don't like it when barnard students assume they go to columbia, because yes CC and Barnard are two very different colleges. but it is so ridiculous to suggest that barnard students are not valid members of the columbia community (the universty community, only a small and insignificant part of which are cc undergraduates!!!!!!). and CC students think GS students suck's all just stupid arrogance and anyone who actually thinks they're automatically smarter than anyone else in the world b/c they go to CC is the kind of person you would want to punch in the face if you ever heard them speak for 2 minutes. i really don't understand why this is even an argument. but really it's just...all so dumb

    • Unamused

      Barnard is affiliated with Columbia and therefore a part of Columbia.

  26. bored (not at butler)

    do we have to have this debate EVERY TIME someone brings up Barnard? if the material on bwog is going to stay this familiar, i might have to find somewhere else to burn time that should be spent doing something more productive.
    and that would require being productive, so i'd really rather not do that.

  27. apparently

    Hillary asked besnoff for a copy of her speech because it was so damn good.

  28. amusing.

    Of course, there are dumb students and brilliant ones all throughout, and I've certainly met many excellent ones from Barnard, but the reasons why some of the undergraduates in CC resent the continued expropriation of the Columbia name by the school on the other side of Broadway are, in my opinion, obvious to anyone. In any case, at the turn of the 20th century, there didn't even exist an institution called "Columbia University." There was, however, a Columbia College.

    • ...  

      And there was a Barnard College which happened to be, as of 1900, affiliated with Columbia. Your point?

      It's called Barnard College of Columbia University for a reason. It's not CC, but it does have an integral part in the Columbia community.

  29. dear gradudates

    once you are out in the big bad world anyone who has spent any time in morningside heights - from barnard girls to that guy who sells his poetry on the corner by wide side market sometimes - will feel like kindred spirits to you. columbia and barnard (which has a really amazing share of famous, influential, and well, connected alums, btw) need to stick together, lest they all get steamrolled by the titular combinations (and combined networking forces) of harvard-radcliffe, brown-pembroke, etc.

    divided you fall,

    • Slight

      difference, but Pembroke was closed in 1971 and Radcliffe was integrated with Harvard starting 1977...Barnard isn't defunct or dissolved. Maybe if it were, there would be less of an issue as co-ed CC removed its raison d'etre. If Harvard and Brown saw the logic in this, why didn't we?

      And I find it a little unlikely that anyone with a diploma from the former women's colleges would be competing with us in the workforce if they graduated in the 70s.

      As for this ridiculous Barnard debate: Barnard is undeniably a part of CU. The very fact we argue over it is indicative of this. But the connection it holds with CU is that of "affiliation" (don't argue over that word because the University itself calls it that, along with every college-related publication), which is undeniably different to that of the

      • Oops

        way in which the other schools are a part of CU. Sorry for the fragmented comment.

      • but

        the point is that barnard attracts a slightly different student body that has wound up contributing a large number of important alumnae to the greater columbia community, and columbians would be foolish to resist affiliation with such people.

        in the same way, harvard and brown students are currently taking advantage of radcliffe and pembroke grads. in the future, though, these schools won't have as diverse a student body to draw from, because they've completely consolidated their brands.

        • Ehh

          I mean, it may be a bit early to tell, but it seems like the vast majority of the alumnae worth mentioning graduated prior to cointegration. Who among Barnard's graduates in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s has been uniquely different from contemporary Columbia alumnae?

        • I completely

          agree. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

          But it's a little dramatic to say Columbia-Barnard need to team up in order to prevent being 'steamrolled' by Harvard-Radcliffe and Brown-Pembroke in the real world. I've never gone into a job interview thinking, there might be a Harvard grad up for this job and I need to get it otherwise Columbia's lost this battle. I want to get a job for myself, not for my school.

          We may use the Columbia connection to help out ourselves and others of the same ilk, but at the same time, it's every (wo)man for her/himself.

  30. BLAH  

    get over yourselves, barnyard

  31. lol  

    girls, im sorry but barnard is NOT a part of Columbia. you lack in many areas, and when people say "I'm from barnard" we all know what that means

    • arrogance

      how does it make sense to insult an entire student body? i don't even find this comment funny even if it is made half-way in jest, poking at the usual stereotype. the point is you are hurling insults, which is immature and disgusting. If you went on an interview and your potential new boss had a University of Virginia or University of New Hampshire, etc degree hanging in his office, would you say, "oh hey you didn't go to CC you lack in so many areas"...would you even think that? How dare you take it upon yourself to insult and entire student body..."you lack in many areas" you honestly think that just because you go to CC you are better than the rest of the world? wake up. your education has taught you nothing. the whole IV league education thing is such a farce anyway. it's a symbol of socioeconomic status more than anything else.

  32. another person

    Barnard is an undergraduate college affiliated with Columbia. Not an undergraduate college of Columbia. Difference.

  33. "barnard girl"

    I'm curious.. where are all of you BC haters in person? Because I'm a senior and have met my fair share of CC/SEAS kids and none of you have had the balls to say any of this to my face. Or maybe it's because when you did come face-to-face with me you became unnerved by my strong, beautiful, confident nature and retreated back to your virginal, [email protected] browsing selves..

  34. BC 09  

    My Barnard degree has "Columbia University" on it....

  35. Confused  

    Why did security guards come into my John Jay room and tell me my windows had to be closed for commencement speeches? Were they worried I was going to be a security threat, or that I might hear the speeches without paying? Weird.


    Best speech I've heard on this campus--including Hillary's. I've set aside a campaign contribution, let me know when you run for office.

  37. none

    It's simply a FACT.

    • CC'09

      The truth of the matter is that Barnard has always been quasi-part of Columbia. It's not "simply a FACT". The name Barnard comes from a former CU president. There is a contract between Barnard and Columbia that officially ratifies a relationship. Students can cross-register for classes and housing, Barnard pays columbia for utilities, Barnard funds most of our groups - and thus is allowed to participate in them, goes to the same bars we do, and importantly we are allowed to recruit female athletes to Barnard who then participate in Columbia teams. Bottom line, if you consider Teacher's College a part of CU, you have to consider Barnard a part of CU as well. Even if you don't, there isn't much to be gained from trying to exclude them other than the smug satisfaction of a few petty individuals. Anywho, the relationship is complicated, so to say that "It's simply a FACT" is a gross over-simplification of reality.

  38. injustice

    These grades are obviously curved! Damn you, grade buster!

  39. all i know

    is that i survived Columbia because of Hewitt dining, Barnard classes boost my GPA with no effort, Barnard girls adorn the campus and the classes, and that my CU girlfriend wouldn't have been able to take ballet classes it wasn't for Barnard.

  40. Bollinger or Quigs

    made a reference to promising to provide a "dating service" in the CC class day address. How much does Barnard pay to stick around, and could Barnard even survive without CU? You can say you're part of CU, just don't turn around and talk about how independent you are as a women's college, it's BS and you know it.

  41. old shit

    i wonder if anyone outside of the CU community actually gives a shit about the fraternal in-fighting among the pettiest twits in the greater CU umbrella? I never hear about any spats between the stateside/privateside schools at Cornell...

  42. BC 09

    Just wanted to say that this whole spat makes me sad. It seems to me that Bwog commenters' anti-Barnard vitriol has increased since I was a freshman, even if it is probably just the work of a few overzealous trolls.

    I am incredibly proud to call myself a Barnard alumna. My experience at Barnard (and within the "Columbia community", however you choose to define it) has been almost uniformly positive. Barnard provides an excellent education, better than at least 95% of colleges and universities out there. Columbia also provides a terrific education. To harp about the relative prestige or selectivity (or whatever) between these schools is to demonstrate elitism.

    I'll just put it out there that I've had very few negative experiences with Columbians--CC and SEAS alike--regarding my collegial affiliation. The majority of people that I've met here have been kind, interesting, and more than a little socially awkward. Also, people at Columbia and Barnard are super weird. And that's just fine with me. But it makes me sad to read sweeping condemnations of Barnard students and Barnard College because it was a special place for me and for the majority of people I knew there.

    Peace out, CU.

  43. Anonymous

    What is the average SAT for Barnard students? Barnard could be a back door to enter Columbia.

  44. Just so you know... the average guy walking down Fulton street in Brooklyn buying a bag a diapers for his two kids, Columbia College, General Studies, SEAS and Barnard all translate to "Columbia University" and represent only one thing: A place where a bunch of corny white people with too much time and money go to sit around and create fake problems.

    So think about it.

  45. don

    it'd be nice if Holder was spending a little less time yucking it up here and a little more time prosecuting assholes like Cheney, but oh well. Personally I think the guy should be locked in his office until he finishes filing those charges, but I guess he can make a nice little speech.

  46. bottom line

    "i want to get into Columbia," "Columbia is my dream school,""oh wow, you go to Columbia?""I graduated from Columbia,""Obama went to Columbia,""Columbia is part of the Ivy League."

    All of the aforementioned statements - aka how the WORLD sees Columbia - refer to COLUMBIA COLLEGE AND SEAS, NOT Barnard. That's why everyone hates when Barnard students sweep in and steal something that Columbia students worked so RIDICULOUSLY hard for.

    Because here's the truth: If I hadn't gotten into Columbia, I would have gone to DARTMOUTH or YALE or GEORGETOWN etc. etc. I would NOT have ever ended up at Barnard, and in my entire time at Columbia, I have yet to meet someone who actually got into Columbia, who also applied to Barnard. It just doesn't happen.

    So excuse us if we're a little thrown off when we get to campus and all of a sudden there's an entire school that is claiming one of our biggest life accomplishments - getting into THE Columbia.

    NO ONE IS SAYING that you guys aren't smart! You just can't steal our accomplishment and think it's okay!

    I think it is kind of summed up in that quote from Hillary Clinton's speech, from earlier this year, when she said that "Barnard women should make just as much money in the workforce as their Columbia male counterparts." What about the Columbia women who worked their asses off to get into that same Columbia - Columbia College/ SEAS?? THEY are the female counterparts to Columbia males, not Barnard.

    • that's really sad

      reply to #70: it's really sad that you see the greatest life accomplishment as getting into columbia college. have you not realized that admittance to "prestigious, elite" colleges live the ivies was traditionally, and still is, a symbol of wealth and socio economic status? yeah, that's changing, thank god, with financial aid, but i would beware of the image you give yourself when you spout such elitism. the fact that you even had a chance of admittance to an "elite" school means you were given many advantages in life. whether you went to a private school or even a decent-quality public school - both are privileges many people are denied.

  47. Just to problematize...

    I am a Barnard alum. One of my closest friends in school was a CC girl who had been flat-out rejected by Barnard. Typical? No. True? 100%. And as for the comments about easy A's in BC classes- I took mostly Columbia classes during my time on campus, and graduated without a mark lower than an A- on my entire transcript, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa... pot calling the kettle black? Though not technically an undergrad college of the University, Barnard students are in your classes, take your exams, and sometimes kick your asses. So stop being so smarmy and self-congratulatory.

    PS- Where is the vitriol for the legacies, the jocks, the minority admits? Or is Barnard the only acceptable prejudice in this university community?

    • hmm...

      Yes, but you do admit that CC is a much more selective school. When I read #70's remark, I responded in much the same way that #72 did-- it is both sad and silly to think that earning an acceptance letter to CC could be the consummation of a person's life. But he/she, as the case may be, expressed a sentiment which nevertheless contains an underlying truth. The schools are incomparable in admissions selectivity, and admission to CC is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, an undeniable measure of merit, and a far more difficult achievement to attain than admission to BC. That said, it is not a full measure of merit, and it certainly isn't in itself the attainment of a sufficient life goal.

  48. selectivity

    Just a point on the meaning of a "selective" some point who gets in and who doesn't has to be somewhat arbitrary, especially when you're talking about a school with such a low admit rate. So many of the applications must be identical. Is anyone willing to admit that they probably "got into Columbia" simply because their application landed face-up?

  49. well, put, #73

    A measured response. Barnard students who refuse to recognize that Columbia and Barnard are different schools, and that Columbia is far more selective, are just in denial. For that reason it reflects badly on Barnard students who insist they go to "Columbia." I understand why it hurts them to hear it, but there is a real difference in the quality of many (but not all) students in Columbia and Barnard (there's a reason why Barnard classes are easier, folks). By all means, Barnard students ought to be proud of their achievements that earned them admission to such a prestigious institution. But Barnard is not Columbia.

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