August 2021


He what??? My 1986 Elementary School Continuation Commencement Speaker

In my lifetime, I have attended a large number of graduation ceremonies, including several where I walked the stage. Many more have been to honor friends and colleagues who have completed a degree.

Out of the dozens I’ve attended, three stick out. Only one of the three was celebrating one of my accomplishments.

The third most memorable commencement speech relates to my father’s job teaching math at a community college in Colorado. One element of that job was attending graduation ceremonies. I don’t think my father necessarily enjoyed the ceremonies and whether or not his attendance at these ceremonies was compulsory or voluntary is a detail that is lost to time.

As a kid, I sometimes attended these graduation ceremonies. I couldn’t tell you anything about any of the events except one, when Mr. Lewan of Lewan and Associates gave the commencement address. He promised that he would make exactly 12 points and then be finished. From my seat in the back row, I kept count. From his seat on stage, so did my father. After the ceremony was completed, we compared counts – he’d made over twenty points. His speech was commensurately long.

The second most memorable commencement speech was here in Germany. I was there in support of a friend, the commencement speaker was a famous German scientist, incredibly well respected in his field with a list of accolades to match. He’d been asked to give his speech in English – unfortunately he did not speak a lick of English. Somebody had typed up a speech in English and he tried to read the words aloud. As a native English speaker, I have no idea what he said that evening. Nor did anybody around me – it was a total failure.

These are, or course, memorable – for the wrong reasons. In the former, the speaker did not keep his promise of a short, 12-point, commencement speech. In the latter, nobody knows what was said.

In the case of my most memorable commencement speech it was nothing that Norm Early, then the Denver District Attorney, said, but rather what was said before the speech.

The introductory speech was given, I presume, by the president of the Park Hill Elementary School Student Council of 1985-86. What he said went right over the heads of all the students (including me) and most of the audience, but it landed directly on my father, who apparently spent the rest of the ceremony do anything he could do to not laugh:

“As the Denver District Attorney, Norm Early has tried everything from fraud to murder.”

I guess the old saying remained true: a poacher makes the best gamekeeper.

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