A Lost Speech, Found
On kindness, in two different modes
Back in May of 2013, I gave a speech at a graduation event. I’d been asked by my college, the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, to give a talk at the Baccalaureate event. Eight years before, in 2005, I’d given a talk at our daughter’s eighth-grade graduation class. I’d worked hard on it, because I loved the kids and also didn’t want to embarrass our daughter, and I thought it had turned out well - it said everything I wanted to say and had come to believe in over the years.
So, I said yes to the college. All I had to do, I figured, was dust off that old draft, revise it a little, and I’d be good to go.
Only…I couldn’t find it. So I had to start from scratch, trying to recreate the speech from memory, modifying it a bit to account for the fact that I was talking to new college graduates instead of a group just finishing eighth grade.
The talk I gave at Syracuse went like this….
The reaction was…interesting. I thought I’d done pretty well but the auditorium was sweltering (one of the graduates passed out from the heat just before I started speaking) and, afterward….well, there was some light applause and that was that. Ego-maniac that I am, I recall wandering around the reception afterward, sort of fishing for a compliment, but all I got was this sort of thing:
PARENT: Are you the guy who gave that speech?
ME: Why, yes.
Well, so it goes sometimes, in the exciting world of public speaking.
A few weeks later I mentioned the talk to my friend Joel Lovell, who’d done an incredibly generous profile of me for The New York Times Magazine, and he asked to see a copy and then posted it on their web site. And it went viral. And later the text became this little book, Congratulations, By the Way.
Then, last week, while going through my files, I found the original text.