Graduation speech column for The Temple News that never ran

At my desk in the newsroom of The Temple News after graduating and cleaned out May 21, 2008.
At my desk in the newsroom of The Temple News after graduating and cleaned out May 21, 2008.

In April I wrote a piece to run in the commentary section of The Temple News but never ran it. My last column was an open letter to the university’s President Ann Weaver Hart. Since last week I shared video of my commencement address, on which this column focuses, I thought I would share the column that never was.

By Christopher Wink | April 18, 2008 | The Temple News (never ran)

I am your commencement speaker.

A committee of professors and administrators have decided that I am serviceable enough to represent my 4,000 fellow graduates on Temple University May 22 commencement ceremony. I will speak to you, our families and our friends, more than 8,000 people in the Liacouras Center.

But, I, too, have sat through graduation speeches of little note and boring memory. I want this to be yours as well.

So I welcome any and all ideas, suggestions and comments, particularly, but not only, from those who are graduating with me on May 22. I would love to hear any of your stories so that I might include them in the brief 5 minutes I have to address you all, your families and my own.

There comes a time in our lives at which we first feel the weight of our being. Traditions are meant to ease this burden by helping us understand who we are and where we are meant to go.

So as we finish another stage of education we are told middle class living dictates is necessary, a day of graduation, of speakers and caps and gowns should calm us.

We can take photos with family, crowding out into North Broad Street. I do not take lightly the opportunity to forever be the commencement speaker for Temple’s Class of 2008.

I take a great ownership in this university. I was among the first Temple volunteers to endeavor on service immersion trips to Tijuana, Mexico and Laredo, Texas and New Orleans and White River, South Dakota. I was in Sullivan Hall before President Ann Weaver Hart, Lincoln Financial Field before Al Golden and was wearing cherry and white before Fran Dunphy.

But with that must come humility. How difficult it is to grasp the history of this university. Temple students were servicing the world long before I was born. Sullivan Hall, and even the Linc, were envisioned before I even moved to Philadelphia, and Fran Dunphy has bled Big 5 basketball longer than he likely cares to admit.

These have been lessons in community for me. How old this university, this city, this world is, yet how often fresh ideas and fresh lives are welcomed. I get warm and gooey when I think about Temple and Philadelphia welcoming me – a fair student from a rural northwest corner of New Jersey.

As I have learned about community, I have learned of the true expansiveness of Temple and this urban play land in which for four years I have been allowed to bicycle through, and subway through, and bus through and slink warm and satisfied through.

But we do not live in postcards or pictures or fine Victorian paintings.

There is trash on your corner and a broken antenna trailing my car. We have survived a college existence that holds in it fundamental geographic differences than those of suburban, true, a great many urban, universities. It is impossible to ignore this. So I will not.

I hope your stories will help me remain balanced and true.

I have learned that speeches on graduation day are meant to remind you that on that day, everything changes. But it isn’t true. No one will leave here different. Because the changes have already come.

In a Center City cubicle, a bar on Chestnut, or a house on Carlisle Street. With your girlfriend on Buery Beach. In the first row of the student section at a men’s basketball game. At a party in McGonigle or at 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday in the TECH Center. On the Broad Street Line or a narrow dormitory bed in Peabody Hall. Maybe even in a classroom.

I began college with less than complete focus. By my sophomore year, I learned enough to get B’s. By my junior year, I learned enough to get A’s. This year, I learned enough to know that I haven’t learned much at all.

Maybe the greatest gift Temple has ever given me, leaving aside the city of Philadelphia, is the knowledge that the universe is littered with what I do not know and will forever struggle to understand.

I hope you all learned something like that or your own lessons of importance while studying on North Broad Street. Write me, call me. Tell me what else I need to include.

See and read my speech and other related materials.