Yes, it happens to many of us profs at least once in our careers: we are asked to give a speech.
And yes, you would think that folks who spend their time speaking in front of students would naturally say, “Yes, of course!” to such a request since it’s pretty much all in a day’s work. But alas, this is far from the case. Many professors I know have the usual fear of public speaking, arguing that speaking in front of their class of students is just not the same thing.
Well, that’s true, to a degree.
I’ve given speeches before (and I’m not including the “reading the paper” sort of speech at the MLA), usually to local groups off campus who selected me from a list of speakers that my college publishes each year. But this year I’ve been asked to give a speech at the annual awards ceremony for academic achievement, and although I said yes, way back in December, I’m now stumped.
It’s not exactly a graduation speech, since many of the students invited to this event are at the end of their first year at our community college, and even those at the end of their second year may be transferring, rather than graduating. Thus, all the ideas and tips about what goes into a graduation speech don’t really apply here.
Having attended this event for 10 years, I do have, in my mind’s eye, models of other speeches, but they were either very witty (wittier than I can ever be) or very serious (more serious than I can ever be), or the speech included actual juggling (and no way: I’m very uncoordinated). Then there is the sprinkling of famous quotations strategy: and yes, I have been collecting those, but I’m not sure how many I can actually hide behind in my 15 minute speech. I’d like to be a little bit witty, a little bit serious, and a little bit something else. Yes, I’ll praise their success, and encourage them to thank those that helped them; and yes, I’ll push them to keep going with their educations; and yes, I may even remind them that there is more to life than a 4.0 (though frankly that seems rather cruel to say to students who worked their collective asses off for just that reason).
But all that seems so old hat: as the experienced hooker said in Gypsy, “you gotta have a gimmick”—and I need one!
So anyone, do you have a gimmick idea for me?