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Communication tips for graduates - if any are listening

SHARE Communication tips for graduates - if any are listening

Graduates and other sources of this school's revenue stream:

I was going to e-mail this commencement speech to you so you could simply delete it from your inbox or forward it to your mailing list of 7,000 close personal friends.But the administration firmly informed me that if I didn't show up in person I wouldn't get to keep this fabulous school T-shirt. So the choice was obvious.

Speaking of e-mail, I want to use my limited time here to say a few words about the way we communicate today and how, if at all, you will be communicating out in the real world, if any.

All that assumes, of course, that some day you will get out of law school, which is where I assume you're going because it's where everybody goes, except for people who drop out of school early to form cutting-edge, high-tech companies and make a bazillion dollars and sell out at age 31 and wonder what to do with the rest of life.

So, then. The question is: What, in the end, do we communicate? I mean besides pizza orders. Ideas. We communicate ideas. And what did Stendhal say about ideas in the early 19th century? This: "I require three or four cubic feet of new ideas per day, as a steamboat requires coal."

Who, you ask, was Stendhal? My word, people. You astonish me. How did you get this close to being granted an academic degree without knowing that Stendhal was the pseudonym of the great French writer, Marie Henri Beyle, who, despite that first name, was a man? Is Pseudonyms 101 no longer required?

By studying the Stendhal quote about ideas, you can tell it was written some decades ago and was not produced by one of you. First, it is grammatical. Second, my experience with most college students today is that, unlike Stendhal, they require, at most, only a few square centimeters - not feet - of new ideas per day. But at least they require them in metric.

Also, were the Stendhal quote to be rendered in today's language, it would not go on about steamboats. It would go on about high-octane gasoline for some kind of oversexed, overmortgaged, over-engineered automobile.

Nonetheless, Stendhal has set for us a high standard for considering - and communicating - new ideas, one I commend to you.

But while you're at it, may I also recommend that you consider - and communicate - old ideas. Which is to say, ideas that led to the wars and crime that chiefly make up history.

You should do this despite Henry Ford's position that "history is bunk." In truth, the Edsel was bunk. Human history, by contrast, is what H.G. Wells said it was: "a history of ideas."

Which brings to mind something written once by Mademoiselle Aisse: "No man is a hero to his valet." I know this may not fit well with the subject at hand, whatever it is, but I am loathe to let a wonderful quote, discovered in the course of research for a meaningless speech, go unquoted.

Mademoiselle Aisse, as surely none of you knows, was an 18th century Circassian slave girl bought in infancy by the French ambassador at Constantinople and educated in Paris. Her letters were published in 1787, at least the ones that didn't get lost in the e-mail. Which, perhaps, is what should have happened to this speech.

At any rate, my best wishes to you for a digital future. Butopropylfluorochlorodine added to preserve freshness.