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Graduation Advice: Keep It Short, Sweet

In the Middle Ages, people could listen to sermons for hours. Then they could return home and repeat the speeches, almost verbatim. Their minds were empty of clutter. No television. No radio. No newspapers.

Times have changed. So please keep it short, you men, women and young people out there working on graduation speeches. Short and profound. Short and silly. Doesn’t matter.

This weekend, many high schools will be celebrating graduation. Hundreds of proud parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends will be crowding into gymnasiums, auditoriums, the Spokane Opera House. Help make their experience pleasant by keeping your talk short.

How short? Two Gonzaga University communications professors, Bud Hazel and John Caputo, agreed: Eight minutes is plenty. Maybe 10 if you have a lot to say. If you are truly a gifted speaker, 15 minutes. Anything more is torture.

A pop quiz: Can you remember the name of the person who spoke at your high school graduation? Can you remember the message? If you can recall both, give yourself an A-plus.

People do not attend graduation ceremonies with the expectation that they will hear an hour-long lecture. The talk is only part of the mix. The awards, the music, the procession of graduates all matter, too. Speeches are sometimes the least of it.

Tuesday night at Post Falls High School, Tonya Niles accepted a diploma on behalf of her sister, Christina Rose Finney. Last week, Finney, a popular student filled with life, was killed in a car accident. The school and community are devastated. As Finney’s sister walked across the stage, audience members jumped to their feet, hands clapping, eyes streaming. The students will remember that moment for many years.

Keep it short. Write from the heart. Leave people wishing for more.

That formula worked for Bishop Kenneth Untener of Michigan who spoke at GU’s graduation May 14. The “hockey-playing bishop” promised to speak for eight minutes only. He kept his word. He talked about the poor, using sports metaphors.

He said: “In sports, you look for some simple action that makes the rest happen. In hockey, the key is to be able to skate with the puck while looking up, not down. If we keep our heads up so that we can see the poor people who are so often out of our narrow vision, the rest will happen.”

Those who attended the graduation exercises could repeat what Untener said, almost verbatim. Now that’s someting to remember.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board