Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Obama speech: a tribute and a challenge

Barack Obama carefully made the Wesleyan commencement speech non-political. He treated it for what it was, an address to those who were about to gradutate.

He began the speech (Wesast here) with a joke, calling Wesleyan "Wellesley" the way the senior class president had in her speech, but went on to pay serious tribute to Ted Kennedy, who was supposed to have given the speech. Obama used the opportunity to encourage students to find a way to give service to the people around them who needed it the most. He urged them to pursue the good of the country, and not the good of their own bank accounts.

Obama's speech was preceded by an excellent one by Wesleyan president Michael Roth who warned students not to believe those who would advise them that secrecy, security, violence and war would keep them safer. Jamaica Kincaid, the novelist, also received an honoray doctorate, and her impromptu praise of Obama as a man who inspires was moving, "When you find a man who inspires you," she said. "Stick with him and go."

In that vein, while Secret Service agents were stationed on roofs and around the field, entry to the commencement was remarkably free of the expected hassle.

Our neighbor Mark Masselli, and his family, including wife Jennifer Alexander, reunion class of 1988, scored front row seats (just behind the grads), by showing up early with his under-rested daughter Karma.

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