The Boston Globe is shocked–shocked!–to discover that
gambling public speakers sometimes give the same speech at different venues. Today’s object of their shock is Fareed Zakaria, the omnipresent media expert on foreign policy, who gave substantially identical talks at the commencements for Duke and Harvard, mere weeks apart.
Zakaria’s Harvard and Duke commencement speeches were essentially identical, built around the same anecdotes and points and often the same language. The addresses have set some at Harvard and Duke atwitter.
The Globe flutters through this as if it is news, breathlessly quoting a Duke employee who’s also shocked:
“I spoke to him while he was here,” said one Duke employee, “and I got the strong impression from him that his Harvard speech would be a different presentation. Oh, well, at least Duke got it first.”
So wait, this Duke employee went up to Zakaria and asked if he was giving the same speech in both places? Impoliteness of that aside (“Hey, buddy, you better not be saying the same thing at Harvard in two weeks!”), what exactly did this employee expect for an answer? “Why, yes, now that you mention it, I am giving the same speech at Harvard. I plan to use this one for several years before retiring it.”
Zakaria pointed out to the reporter that a fair number of people do repeat their speeches, but she brought in a “consultant who handles graduation speakers” from Academy Communications, who is definitely positively not trying to drum up business, to tut-tut further:
“Usually, they’re very different speeches,” said Randell Kennedy, who has handled more than 100 commencement talks as president of the consultancy Academy Communications. “One reason for that is Google, because you can just plug in the text from one school and — holy cow! — find it at the other.”
Commencement speeches are hardly high art. Most people (warning: completely unsupported assertion coming up!) can hardly remember their speaker, let alone what that speaker said. Paying any attention to them–outside the context of the ceremony–is overkill, and offering a word for word comparison with all the censoriousness of a 1950s priest discovering kids smoking behind the church looks like nothing more than a Lost fan site arguing over the exact phrasing of the Dharma Initiative’s latest video.
Okay, that was a smear of a good show, but I still resent the series end.