Govs’ Speeches Send Grads on Their Way

By: - June 14, 2007 12:00 am

Like any graduating class, the crop of governors giving commencement addresses in 2007 had its own standouts.

Most Popular: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), who – with eight commencement speeches – far out-orated his fellow governors.

Most Unique: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), who delivered an address to a graduating class of one.

Class Clown: Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), who drew laughs from Southern Utah University students for his frank talk about the bottom line: “Cost of tuition for a semester at SUU: $1,800. Cost of textbooks for that semester: $400. The looks on your family members’ faces when you’ve finally reached today: priceless.”

This year at least 22 governors – 15 Democrats and seven Republicans – made the commencement rounds to laud graduates.

Governors and their speechwriters largely adhered to commencement clichés: They congratulated grads, encouraged them to reach for the stars, and cited cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s quote that commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that graduates “should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” To which Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) added, “If I cannot be transcendentally inspirational, I at least hope not to sedate you.”

But one governor strayed from the usual script. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) used the University of Massachusetts-Boston podium to unveil an ambitious, 10-year education plan that includes universal preschool, all-day kindergarten, extending the school day and year, plus free community college.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) made a rare commencement appearance at Saint Mary’s College, a Catholic liberal arts college in the Bay Area. His chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, was among the graduates of the college’s School of Extended Education, where adults with full-time jobs and families complete their diplomas.

Schwarzenegger said that, like the graduates in front of him, he had to beat the odds to succeed. When he aimed for movie stardom, he recalled, the naysayers said, “Well, that can’t be done. You have an accent. You have this overdeveloped body, with these weird things popping out everywhere. And you have this strange name, Schwarzenschniztel, or whatever you call it.

Montana’s Schweitzer also had a noteworthy speech, not because of its content but because of its audience: Roxie Britton, Froid High’s sole graduate, and, of course, valedictorian.

In Froid, a town of fewer than 200 residents, more than 200 showed up to hear Schweitzer speak. Without using notes, Schweitzer talked about the need for renewable and alternative energy sources and encouraged Roxie to continue her education and have a positive attitude about the future, Roxie’s father and school superintendent Roger Britton told the Associated Press.

Some governors went to their alma maters. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) recalled for Arkansas State University graduates how he felt when he was in their seats in 1968. “I sat out there and wondered when those guys were ever gonna shut up so I could get my degree and we could go on down the road,” he said.

He also cheered on his state, telling graduates, “We’re getting rid of this inferiority complex. There’s no reason to be 48 th , or 38 th , or 28 th , or eighth. We want to be first, there’s no reason why we can’t be.”

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) returned to Northwest High School, where he was senior class president in the McDermott, Ohio, school’s first graduating class in 1959, and told students, “Your roots here will provide you strength no matter what you encounter.” He said he still wears his high school ring as a reminder of his Appalachian background.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) took advantage of a graduation speech to slam The Atlanta Journal-Constitution , with which he has clashed after the newspaper raised questions on some of his land purchases.

“When people ask me about the things written about me in the newspaper, I always say about The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, … they are absolutely free to print whatever they choose to print,” Perdue told grads of Berry College, a Christian school outside Rome, Ga. “But I also remind those listening, they’re also free to cancel their subscription.”

Virginia’s Kaine gave some variation of the same speech to three universities, two community colleges, an adult learning center, one high school, and a class receiving its General Educational Development (GED) certificates. He brought up Queen Elizabeth II’s recent visit to commemorate the 400 th anniversary of the Jamestown Colony, 50 years after her visit for the 350 th anniversary, and reflected on how far the state has come since then.

“In 1957, many of you would not have been here,” Kaine told Virginia Military Institute graduates. “You wouldn’t have been here because public education in Virginia was not open to folks whose skin color wasn’t white, largely. You wouldn’t have been here because much of public education in Virginia was not open to women.”

Visiting the Finger Lakes region of New York, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) stuck with the classics for Keuka College graduates: Make the world a better place.

“We’ve treated the world pretty roughly, and it has come at a price,” he said, according to the Burlington Free Press . “The earth is telling us we need to do better. Our history is catching up with us, unless we act.”

He added that grads have a tough job on their hands: “This is the world we bequeath to you, in full hope that you will make it a better place, with more charity and understanding, and reason, than any previous generation.”

Kathleen Haughney contributed to this report.

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