A bunch of Arts graduates walk into an office…
The memory should be vivid for many Arts graduates. Sitting in the graduation ceremony, the words of an otherwise inspiring commencement address waft overhead as the mind focuses uncontrollably on an uncertain future. Seated in uncomfortable lecture theatre seats (you won’t miss those, you think) you wait for a certificate cementing your “qualifications”, in the broadest sense of the word.
The guest speaker waxes lyrical about personal journeys, eventually tying their tale into the “unique” position bestowed upon graduates of this (insert institution name) university, and of a duty we inherit to uphold and develop explorations into society and culture. The speaker resolves that in doing so we become model citizens, helping our fellow man realise the importance of life beyond economic measures of success and happiness.
As an early-20s undergraduate with student debt, little corporate experience (pretty sure I walked into an office reception once) working a part-time bar job and only ‘soft skills’ to my name, I was certainly looking forward to economic measures of happiness.
By its very definition the Arts commencement address must be general, after all how can a single person tailor an address for graduates from such varied subject majors, from political science to anthropology, psychology, sociology and other ponderings-turned-fields-of-study-turned formal “-ologies”?
But why should breadth of audience demographic always translate into a lack of audience connection? Why do they always seem so caught up in the speaker’s nostalgic reflection - a sort of stiff-lipped academic version of corporate motivational seminars, à la Anthony Robbins.
Seated in Sydney University’s distinguished Great Hall, I wondered if anybody else shared my amusement at the occasional differences between the reality of attaining an Arts degree, and the alternate reality offered by the keynote speaker.
There was a palpable, almost telepathic giggle amongst students when the speaker suggested (in hindsight it may have been slightly tinged with irony) that our degrees were the result of years of “hard work” and “burning the candle at both ends”.
While this may have been true during certain periods of time, a quick mental calculation revealed that accounting for all the last minute reports, essays and exam cram sessions (the results are known as “excramant”) equated to perhaps 20 days of actual “work” each year. If I had any regrets now, I certainly had a great time making them happen.
Of course in the broader scheme of things a graduation address a distant memory a few hours later, when alums hit the local for a celebratory drink. For graduates it’s all about the “future” and for many, this means an uncertain start to their professional lives. As such in the moment of a graduation speech, a bit more focus on the practical than the philosophical would be appreciated.
Surely the accomplished role models who are chosen to address students ought to try and address their fears in the collective environment of a graduation ceremony. The power of knowing that others (particularly successful others) once shared our insecurities, can’t be underestimated.
Ultimately, an Arts degree Most graduates will have years ahead to listen to corporate spin through a window of mission statements, manipulated pie charts and team building exercises. In the meantime, while the speech may be a blip in the student experience, addressing students’ anxieties is fitting way to make a real connection with robed and distinguished, yet unnerved graduates.
Failing that, I’ve heard the “years of hard work” joke is a crowd pleaser.
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