Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Commencement Speech

David is struggling with his commencement address to the graduating class at Colorado College. He was invited to be the speaker and receive an honorary Doctorate Degree—finally a doctor in the family. The award is easy but the speech is difficult to craft. What do you say to a group of 20 years olds who are about to go out and seek their destiny? How can you be inspirational without lecturing them about the world they are about to confront?

David is used to speaking with pictures. He’s not going to have a projector or a computer with a selection of all his work. It’s not easy. And he is writing and rewriting all his many thoughts and memories which he has to limit to twenty minutes. David could easily talk for over an hour—and he has-- when he shows photo’s. A twenty minute conversation is no problem, but a twenty minute speech without interaction and without being allowed to speculate or lecture is very difficult.

This morning, when I was making caramelized cashews and almonds we started to add and subtract a few points to a manuscript he created last week. First , the recipe for the nuts then back to the speech.

Preheat oven to 325. Grind together 2tsp fennel seeds 1tsp crushed red pepper, 1 tsp salt, 3 tbls sugar and one tbls of water. I have a small grinder but I guess you can crush them by hand with a mortar and pestle if you're feeling medieval. Then take 2 cups of nuts, (almonds or cashews are great). Mush the blended mixture into the nuts. Cover an cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with oil--but not olive oil. Canola is good. Spread the nuts on the sheet. Bake at 325 for about 22 minutes or until the nuts have caramelized and browned. Let them cool.

I guess the essence of the speech has to be something about him and his noteworthy career—otherwise they could just have invited me and I could have blabbed for 20 minutes about Iris’ five rules of success. Want to hear them? You might as well since no one at Colorado College will. These are especially true for young women...

1. Have confidence in your own decision making ability. Go with your thoughtful gut.
2. Never ask permission to do something you think needs to be done. You can always apologize later, but you don’t want anyone to have the opportunity to say no.
3. Always look like you know where you are walking.
4. Don’t be afraid to fire volunteers. If someone is not respectful or competent, they will just be a body in the way of your goal
5. In whatever job you take, try to be in a position where you sign the checks or make the check signing decisions.

I think if David were making the list he would add a 6. And it would be not to ever lose your focus. You have to be dedicated to whatever you do and you can’t be distracted by other people. It’s probably why he didn’t have a date until he was 28—but the sacrifice had a payoff. It’s what he’s tried to tell Jordan about her choice of career—she needs to have only one goal and she can’t be distracted by anyone or thing because there are so many other people waiting to take the important picture or be the recognized talent.

David is a sensitive, caring person with a very special gift and an extraordinary ability to see things other people walk past. When he was covering the refugee camps in Cambodia he took an award winning picture of a woman with her baby – but the focus was the babie’s little feet. A photographer with whom he traveled occasionally remarked that if he had turned right instead of left he would have taken the same picture as David. It just never would have happened because David sees differently than the rest of us ordinary mortals.

OK, so David has an innate talent, does this mean that all the ordinary kids should pack it in and not bother—I think quite the opposite. He can inspire them because he worked at developing his very special gift. When he was declared 4F during the Viet Nam war he didn't say, "thank god". he went as a photographer instead of a soldier. He was not discouraged by a lack of professional preparation. He was not afraid to travel alone, without the benefit of a cell phone, a blackberry, any technology -- and without many other resources—he was not afraid to take a chance on himself. I think that’s pretty inspirational. We’re just sayin....


Walt said...

David, no no no, I'm sorry, Dr. David, what you need to tell the graduates is about the guy who thought you died in Vietnam, and never took the effort to think otherwise.

I'm now the age my father was when I graduated college. William Safire gave our commencement address. He failed to graduate from Syracuse University many years before, so at least he was getting an honorary degree for life experience. His talk still inspires me.

But what I really remember were my fellow graduates after commencement. A bunch of us stood around looking for our families, laughing, and saying "That's it. We're college graduates? We just got here 4 years ago. You mean it's over? We don't really feel any different."

So remember David, there's no pressure. It's just that there may be one student in the audience who will actually remember you 29 years later. More than I can say for that fellow in Vietnam. Grin.

Walter Briggs said...

Just a thought..What if David envisioned each grad as a photo, each with 'a thousand words', and he adds a portion to each?? And, what if was added,"each picture says a thousand each of you, I see a thousand stories of your future to come.."

Anonymous said...

David, I would send Jordon instead of you.

Put those great acting skills to good use. A little grey powder in the hair, some reading glasses, and she is set to go.

After all you did pay for her education and it is about time you got something out of it.

And, if your speech starts to lose the audience she can always bring down the house with some broadway hits.

And its great press for you - TIMES HEADLINE - "Famed photographer wows alumni with Yentl!".

Fresh Gefilte fish handouts at the auditorium door may help...?

If Jordon won't go,you could also send the guy that thought you were dead for 37 years. He to deliver a eulogy, he's had 37 years to think about it, if he cant come up with an hour speech who can?

Then of course you show up at the end of his eulogy to ooooh's and aaaah's, and glory be's, a few oh my gods he's alive! Cut to: Iris fake fainting into the arms of a friend.

If you could appear from the wings semi-naked , parched and limping, maybe loin covering made out of palm branches, have a scruffy beard, an old broken nikon being dragged around your foot, all the better.

Glad I could help.

Iris&David said...

Thanks friends
these are such good ideas, we think that David's speech is going to be about who we should have sent instead!

Iris&David said...

This just in:

Talked with Yentl, and she says she'll do it for scale or Equity points, but bascially, it's "No More Ms. Nice Guy"

Back to the Edit room.