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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Graduation Speakers: Words to Live By?

Aired May 21, 2003 - 19:50   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there is a good chance that some moms will be shedding a tear or two this weekend while their husbands beam with pride over the graduation of their son or daughter, or vice versa. A couple of them were probably doing that today as President Bush addressed the graduating cadets from the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
Caps and gowns and film for the camera have long been staples of graduation day, but it's the guest speaker who gets to have the last word. Are they words to live by?

More now from our Bruce Burkhardt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ask not what a commencement speech can do for you, ask what it can do for the speaker.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my State of the Union address in January, I put forward an emergency plan for AIDS relief.

BURKHARDT: Be it a current president or an ex-president.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So here's my argument.

BURKHARDT: The commencement speech is often less about giving practical advice to the new graduates, than it is about big picture stuff, a world view or a way to advance one's policies.

How is this tidbit supposed to help you get a job?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: America is faced with an historic choice about the role it is to play in the world.

BURKHARDT: Long maligned as a perfectly appropriate ending to years of boring lectures, the commencement address still remains a cherished tradition in American education, an attempt to provide words of inspiration.

Well intentioned maybe, but not always stirring.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: And to use faith and service to others as your guides principles.

BURKHARDT: How many of us remember our graduation speaker?

Well, maybe if it was Bill Cosby, we would.

BILL COSBY, ENTERTAINER: You could make a difference. You can start to pay off your student loans.

BURKHARDT: Bill Cosby is a regular on the commencement circuit, a blend of standup comic and preacher, Cosby uses laughs, but goes for the gut.

COSBY: I want you to hug them when you see them today and give them your heart and your love. I'm serious about that.

BURKHARDT: Entertainers as commencement speakers seems to be more popular these days, but for heaven's sakes, a frog?

KERMIT THE FROG, ENTERTAINER: The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave the swamp.

BURKHARDT: On the other hand, there's Professor John Sullivan, whose story we told last year. For 22 years an understudy, he was the backup commencement speaker at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) University in North Carolina, a drawer full of speeches not given.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two levels of life to stay awake, to see what the heart...

BURKHARDT: But a cancellation last year meant Professor Sullivan got his big break. It wasn't as if he hadn't thought about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a wonderful quote from Frederick Doueffhner (ph) is he says to, you know, find your calling is to find the intersection between your own deep gladness and the world's deep hunger. That's what I want for these students.

BURKHARDT: Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: So what are the elements for a really memorable commencement address?

Joining me now is the man who knows how to hold a captive audience, Comedy Central's own "Daily Show" correspondent, Mo Rocca.

Mo.

MO ROCCA, DAILY CORRESPONDENT, COMEDY CENTRAL: Daryn, good to see you.

KAGAN: Good to see you. Have you ever given a commencement speech yourself?

ROCCA: I haven't, but I certainly have thoughts on what makes a good one.

KAGAN: I'm not surprised by that.

ROCCA: Well, I think -- I think most people want, as Bruce pointed out in the report, big ideas. We can look, you know, back in history and see some great examples of this.

George Marshall, secretary of state in 1947, at Harvard delivered the proposal for the Marshall Plan, the reconstruction of Europe in that speech. So I'm not suggesting that today's speakers repropose the Marshall plan as it was. I think that's just lazy and I think young people are smart and they'd see through it and they'd say, Hey -- Well, hey, I was backpacking through Europe last summer and it looks fine to me. I mean, Albania is a little dusty and just needs a good hose off, though it doesn't need to be reconstructed.

But I think it's those big ideas that are compelling. But there also needs to be practical advice that stems from that.

KAGAN: Such as?

ROCCA: Well, things that I wish I had been told, that -- that the presentation and appearance does matter.

KAGAN: You didn't get that in your speech?

ROCCA: Well, you know, I was afraid I'd look like a wreck right now, but -- but the -- you know, I've learned now working for years in the real world that I would rather say work along someone who's stupid, but has fresh minty breath than someone who is brilliant and has bad breath. Now I'm not saying like full-on retarded, I'm just saying some body who is stupid and has, you know, great breath because hygiene really matters and you know, that's just life.

I found that my life really started changing when I got a personal trainer and when I started using Keel's skin products. I mean, I look and I feel and I smell great. This stuff is really terrific.

(CROSSTALK)

KAGAN: I want to get back to this minty breath thing. So are you telling me John Stewart has good breath? Like, before you show do you go?

ROCCA: Well, let's just say he keeps a toothbrush in his right- hand drawer. And that's a really good recommendation. I think it's really important, because brains will only get you so far.

You know, I...

KAGAN: Here's your moisturizer, by the way.

ROCCA: Oh, thanks. No -- oh, gosh, I'm kind of oily right now, but it absorbs. It will absorb and that's expensive stuff.

But -- so I think -- you know, we're in a stressed economy right now so people want really relevant.

KAGAN: A lot of kids have having trouble getting a job.

ROCCA: Yes, well, you know, things are going really well for me and the truth of the matter is the best advice I can offer people is to send me your resume because I am looking for a personal assistant right now.

So if you send it to Mo Rocca at "The Daily Show," 513 West 54th St.,, New York, New York, 10019. That's 100, 19, 10,019. That's the same thing.

KAGAN: There is a budget in "The Daily Show" for Mo Rocca to have a personal assistant.

Clearly, I'm working at the wrong network.

(CROSSTALK)

ROCCA: But -- but, you know -- and one day I hope to deliver my own speech. My speech was delivered by Eduard Shevardnadze.

KAGAN: Really? I wonder what he had to say.

ROCCA: He had such a thick accent and I think -- which is very crafty of him, because then you can sort of project anything you want onto him.

I could imagine him saying all sorts of things, like, "From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent" But, of course, this is post-Cold War and he was rung a post-Soviet scrap of a country. I can't even remember the name of it.

And -- or, you know, as the great Armenian thinker -- great Armenian thinker once said, "To keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars," which, I think, is an important exertation. That's, of course, Casey Kasem, who, indeed is Aremnian.

KAGAN: Top 40.

ROCCA: Sure.

KAGAN: There you go.

ROCCA: Yes.

KAGAN: Somehow I think that the requests are just going to be flooding in for you now, Mo.

ROCCA: I hope so.

KAGAN: You know, the class of 2004.

ROCCA: Yes, I hope so.

KAGAN: Why not? Mo Rocca, Comedy Central, "The Daily Show." Thanks so much and thanks for the lotion.

ROCCA: Sure. Of course. Any time.

KAGAN: Appreciate it.

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