I just got back from celebrating a family friend’s graduation from culinary school, and while I was listening to the honorary speaker, I thought about who in literature would make the best commencement speeches, who can give inspiring words from the heart and incite passion in their audiences. On the other hand, who would make you just groan and look for the nearest exit?
Well, after giving it a lot a thought, I have made my decision!
Best Fictional Commencement Speaker: Hector from Homer’s Iliad
Now most people associate Iliad with Achilles, but what the Greek warrior has in fame, he lacks in people skills. After all, he threw a major hissy fit during most of the war after Agamemnon stole his slave-girl Briseis. But Hector acted like the noble Trojan prince he was, and although he was killed by Achilles, he possessed great power in motivating his troops.
Here’s one example from my Lombardo translation:
“Trojans, Lycians, Dardanian soldiers, remember to fight like the men that you are. Zeus I know has decreed glory for me and victory–and for the Danaans defeat. Look at this puny wall they’ve put up. It will never withstand the force of our attack, and our horses will easily jump this ditch. Once I get to their ships, get me some fire so I can burn the fleet and kill dazed Greeks in the smoke.” (8.176)
Confident, powerful, memorable–just what the class of 2012 needs to put a fire under their own butts. Hector was a leader with both military expertise and the respect of his soldiers. Graduates could use someone like him.
Runners-Up: Dumbledore from Harry Potter, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, Marc Antony from Julius Caesar
Worst Fictional Commencement Speaker: Treebeard from Tolkien’s The Two Towers
Let’s ignore for a moment that a tree shepherd would automatically make an unusual graduation guest. I can’t think of anyone who would give a longer, duller speech than this Ent. When your catchphrase is “Don’t be hasty,” you know it’s going to be a long night! Check out the beginning to Entmoot, the gathering of the Ents:
“After a long time (and the chant showed no signs of slackening) [Pippin] found himself wondering they had yet got further than Good Morning; and if Treebeard was to call the roll, how many days it would take to sing all their names. ‘I wonder what the Entish is for yes or no,’ he thought. He yawned.” (Ch. 4)
Days??? No one in their right mind would listen to a commencement speeches lasting days. I love Ents as much as the next Ringer, but come on!
Runners-Up: Big Brother from 1984, Hamlet from Hamlet, Mersault from The Stranger
So anyone else you can brainstorm that would make one of these lists? Let me know! I’ll be counting down the days until my own commencement!!!