A high school graduation speech is supposed to be uplifting and filled with hope, right? David Guterson, the author of “Snow Falling on Cedars,” disagrees.
A committee of parents and students asked the famous author to speak at Roosevelt High School’s graduation in Seattle. He agreed but gave a rather unusual speech. Instead of the run-of-the-mill address Guterson, a Roosevelt alumnus, launched into a long speech with many references to death. It lasted about 25 minutes.
Some parents were upset by the content and others by the length. Instead of being respectful, a handful of audience members attempted to clap him off stage before he had finished speaking. They even yelled at him to be more positive and stop ruining graduation. It didn’t work.
Asked afterward what they thought of the speech, some offered their insights.
“He had very odd references,” said senior Dexter Tang. “He referenced marijuana use for one. He talked a lot about his death…Something along the lines of metaphorical death, about dying inside.”
However, some people liked the speech. Principal Brian Vance and some parents thought it was fine, saying that, while dark at times, David Guterson challenged students to be thoughtful about how they spend their lives.
“The message was about waking up and reflecting on your life and trying to avoid the distractions that we all have in our lives, and take the opportunity to think about what you want to accomplish,” Vance said.
However, there may be a growing trend of atypical graduation speeches. “The addresses of 2013 were much more personal, infused with self-deprecating humor, raunchy asides and references to the speakers’ own humble or distant origins. The looser tone fits a looser time…,” said a New York Times article.
“In an era of less rigid career and life expectations, the speeches are peppered with exhortations to take risks. There are acknowledgments that making a living could be hard, as well as an embrace of failure as a learning experience, that would have been hard to imagine in 1973,” the article said.