True to form, Ira Glass began his commencement speech at Goucher College last week by insulting the very existence of commencement speeches. They’re “cloying and impossible,” full of stock advice; in fact, Glass said, he “oppose[s] on principle any commencement speech.” In the video (available here) of the speech, you can see Goucher students smiling up at Glass, wondering where he’s going to take this next.
And then the host of NPR’s This American Life started talking about how he lost his virginity… in one of those dorms just over there. The students erupted in gleeful, shocked laughter, and the things we all already knew — that Glass knows how to shape a story, and how to keep listeners on their toes — became apparent. Honestly, it was just a great speech: Glass managed to hit that commencement speech sweet spot of being both poignant and irreverent. He told stories about feeling lost and poor in his twenties and thirties, when his parents (“possibly the only Jews who didn’t listen to public radio”) kept gently suggesting he consider a career change. He told parents to readjust their ideas of what they want their kids to be — and told students to be kind to their parents while this is happening (“There are things I said to my parents in my twenties that I still regret,” he cautioned. “As your parents catch up to you… don’t be a dick.”) He talked about being a terrible writer, and about the many years he spent making under $20,000 a year.
In short, it’s not one of those rousing, vague, “You can do anything, you are the future” sermons, but more like seventeen minutes of listening to a smart, honest man look back on his own life — and also the amazing life of his grandmother, a Goucher grad from way back. Worth a listen.