May and the early part of June are graduation season. Time to celebrate a major milestone for high school and college graduates, but for the class of 2020, the spring semester has been anything but normal.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic caused most schools to move to online classes since about mid-March.
Despite the unusual circumstances, many school administrators have done their best to allow graduates to have at least some parts of a “normal” graduation ceremony.
Over the years, graduations have developed long-standing and reaffirming traditions that link current graduates to the decades of alumni that have graduated before them.
These time-honored graduation traditions include wearing gowns, mortal boards, and tassels, playing the school’s alma mater, and the familiar graduation song: “Pop and Circumstance,” and an address by a commencement speaker to give “one final lecture” to the graduating class before they receive there diplomas.
Commencement addresses are my favorite graduation tradition. Most colleges and universities bring in a successful person to deliver the commencement address.
They usually include good solid advice for the graduating class. Many of the top colleges and universities compete to get the most prominent commencement speakers.
Year after year, these schools welcome the absolute best business leaders, authors, politicians, scientists, athletes, actors, and actresses to address the graduating class.
I always think back on my commencement speakers this time of year. For my graduation from USM, it was then Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove.
I remember him touting that Mississippi was the first state in the nation to have a computer in every K-12 classroom.
This was no doubt an accomplished for our state. Mississippi was finally ahead of others states in at least one positive category, but technology advances quickly.
Today most of us carry smartphones, basically mini-computers, everywhere we go. The achievement of a computer in every classroom was short lived and even seems almost quaint now.
My graduation from Ole Miss Law School was especially memorable due to the weather.
Graduations from Ole Miss take place outside in the Grove, but an early morning thunderstorm left the normally beautiful Grove mud soaked.
The commencement speaker was former CNN and PBS journalist Judy Woodruff. She gave her speech in the light rain after the worst of the worst of the thunderstorms had passed. She used her graduation speech to praise the people of Mississippi on coming together in recovery from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
While most commencement addresses are inspirational messages to the graduating class, one changed the course of world history.
The most historically impactful commencement address was Winston Churchill’s graduation speech to Westminster College in the small town of Fulton, Missouri.
Churchill delivered a speech that would go down in history as the “Iron Curtain Speech.” The speech shook the foreign policy status quo and marked the beginning of Cold War. Can you imagine going to your college graduation and the commencement speaker gives an address that immediately changes the world?
This year, prominent people from all walks of life have given “virtual” commencement addresses online.
Those in class of 2020, who missed out on a real commencement speaker, have the opportunity to go online to hear inspirational wisdom from a number of different successful people, including “ Bill Gates, John Roberts, Tim McGraw, Jimmy Fallon, Tim Cook, Eli Manning, and LeBron James.
If you want a Mississippi focused commencement address, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson gave an excellent “virtual” commencement address.
To those who have earned a degree in 2020, best of luck. You have graduated in one of the most unusual and troubling times in modern history.
Keith Ball is a graduate of Petal High School, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the Ole Miss School of Law. He is an attorney and lifelong resident of the Friendly City.