The Home Team / The greatest speech ever made
I've been hearing a lot of speeches lately.
My youngest son graduated from Staples High School last week, and we've been swept up in the whirlwind that goes along with that rite. A few weeks back, there was the Scholar-Athlete Banquet, and we listened to speeches given by Principal John Dodig and Athletic Director Marty Lisevick -- as well the entertaining and clever thoughts from 34 of Staples' finest student-athletes. The night before graduation, we went to Baccalaureate and heard talks by William Jones (faculty speaker), Joseph Tacopina (parent speaker), and then the highlight of the evening: the hysterically funny remarks from Class of 2011 Salutatorian Todd Lubin. At commencement, Todd's twin brother Eric delivered a wonderfully insightful Valedictory address.
Of course, graduation came right on the heels of college visits, during which we heard endless speeches about the "well-rounded, passionate, and diverse" student body being sought (this is before our kids were accepted), and then still more speeches about "how proud they should be to be part of the best class in the history of this university" (this is after).
And let's not forget the mother of all speeches -- the ultimate tear-jerker -- still to come: the freshman convocation speech, to be delivered by the president of the college on the day we surrender our children to the institution of their choice. I can hear Carol sobbing already. She cried at Matt's freshman convocation. She cried at Greg's freshman convocation. I can only imagine how the tears will flow on the day when she sends off her baby.
In the midst of all this speechifying, a friend emailed me the transcript of an address delivered by one William Deresiewicz, a former Yale English professor, to the plebe class at West Point. His speech is titled "Solitude and Leadership," and in it, Deresiewicz contends that many of America's so-called leaders, who went to Ivy League and other super-selective schools, aren't really leaders at all but "excellent sheep." (To see his speech in full: http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/)
On his way to defining true leadership, Deresiewicz touches on one point after another that resonated deeply with me, and I found his thinking nothing short of brilliant.
On the insanity of the "college process":
I've been railing against this fiasco since January of 1998, when my wife and I sat in at the guidance session for parents of high school juniors -- the first of three such sessions we've had the pleasure to experience -- and were told to take a deep breath, because the next 12 months could be the worst of our lives. In fact, I wrote a book about this circus: Accept My Kid, Please! A Dad's Descent Into College Application Hell.
Here's Deresiewicz on the subject: "I know what it's like for you guys now. It's an endless series of hoops that you have to jump through, starting from way back, maybe as early as junior high school. ... I sat on the Yale College admissions committee a couple of years ago. ... What I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers."
On being a "quick study":
Herman: Buddies often have a laugh at my expense because I can sometimes be a little slow on the uptake (e.g., will always turn key the wrong way; will invariably drive in the wrong direction; will start hyperventilating when I see the words "some assembly necessary"). My defense is that I may "get" things slowly, but think about them deeply.
Deresiewicz: "Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. ... You cannot simply do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube . . . You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating."
On reading books:
Herman: I love reading books. More than reading People Magazine, more than The New York Times. Way more than watching TV or zipping around the internet. My sons tell me I'm a dinosaur -- that nobody reads books anymore.
Deresiewicz: "Why is reading books better than reading tweets or wall posts? A book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is a result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself. Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable.
They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they're not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time."
This guy is unbelievable. He agrees with me on everything.
I told you he was brilliant.
In addition to "The Home Team," which appears every other Friday, you can also keep up with Hank Herman's blogs: "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/; and "Old School, New School," on the Hearst website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/oldschoolnewschool/