Commencement Speech

by Yussi Pick

Yes, Yes. It’s been a while. There are about 5000 unwritten blogposts, about the snow and NPR and this and that. But something always came inbetween. My thesis, for example, which I will post here soon. For now, in celebration of  my commencement on Saturday, here’s the commencement speech I wrote for my Speechwriting Class.

<Insert thanks and congratulations here> Congratulations to the class of 2010.

When you walk over this stage, you are alumni of American University.

The school with the misleading name.

Because this isn’t an American University, this is an international university. I studied with people from Cameroon, the British Virgin Islands, Iran –even from Canada! This is only one thing that makes this school so unique and such a great preparation for what’s next.

As you, I can proudly go out and tell folks: I have a degree from American University. And they will ask: “Which one?”

It’s an honor to be the valedictorian today. My high school Latin teacher would be so proud that I can tell you it means: The one that says farewell. I say “would be proud” because I had to look it up.

For me it’s especially hard to say farewell – especially the [w]. I still have trouble pronouncing [v] and [w].

Last time I had to say farewell was only 9 months ago. Unbelievable. The journey to my Master’s degree started only 9 months ago.

It was a hot day in early August and even earlier in the morning when I boarded my plane from Vienna to DC.

I kissed my mother goodbye, gave my brother and my dad one of those awkward man-hugs and promised my grandmother to be back for her 88th birthday. We didn’t know we neither of us would keep this promise.

As I boarded the plane, a scene of my favorite show came to mind: The West Wing. In the very final scene of the series, the President glazes out of an airplane window. His wife asks him: “What are you thinking about?” And he replies: “Tomorrow”

I was sort of disappointed – Really? “Tomorrow”? Everyone knows the president’s catchline is: “What’s next?”

That’s my question for you, Class of 2010: “What’s next?”

And that’s what I love in the communications field. The right answer is: “I don’t know.”

For example, Professor Graf taught a course how organizations can use things like Facebook and Twitter, to move their cause further. Yet, when Joe Graf was in college himself, facebook was when he fell asleep in the library.

Only a year ago, saying “I’m twittering” would have caused strange looks.

Probably only few of you have heard of foursquare and Gowalla, even fewer about dailymugshot or dailybooth. Yet those are the tools that you will use in one or two years to listen to consumers, to engage with customers, to communicate with constituents.

The challenge of our field is not to know what’s hot, but to anticipate what’s next.

For journalists, the same question remains. Because when I buy the words you have written so elegantly, they describe something that happened 24 hours ago. They describe something, I have read about on a blog an hour after it happened. They describe something, I have read about in a Tweet the moment it happened.

The challenge of your field is to be late and still be relevant.

And Online journalists: How can you be on time and still be smart.

However, there is a second meaning to the question. Jed Bartlett says: “When I ask ‘What’s Next?’ it means I’m ready to move on to other things.”

We, as well, are ready to move on.

Today I’m gonna kiss friends goodbye and give others awkward man-hugs. I will make promises and hope they are kept. Today, my plane that I boarded 9 months ago lands safely and my journey is over.

Today, I pull together all my language skills, Latin, English, German, to say farewell. Or as they say in this famous Austrian Folk song I have never had heard of, before I came here: Adieu, Farewell, Auf Wiederseh’n, Good Bye!

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