Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Failures' As Model Speakers

From Timothy Noah in the Philadelphia Daily News:
Here are some of the people slated to be guest speakers at this year's college commencements:
Hillary & Bill Clinton, Geena Davis, Rahm Emanuel, James Franco, Sanjay Gupta, Eric Holder, Bobby Jindal, Matt Lauer, Barack & Michelle Obama, Colin Powell, Elie Wiesel, Oprah Winfrey, Fareed Zakaria.
What's wrong with this list?
Some would argue that it has too many pols. Or too few conservatives. The Facebook page "UCLA Students Against James Franco as Commencement Speaker" might say it's tarted up with too many showbiz celebs.
I have a different objection - too many successful people. . . .

Consider selecting a speaker from the following alternate list:
Edmund L. Andrews, the author of the forthcoming "Busted: Life inside the great mortgage meltdown." Andrews put himself into a financial tailspin by taking out a subprime mortgage on a house he couldn't afford. A not-uncommon tale of woe these days, but Andrews happens to be an economics reporter for the New York Times who enjoyed a ringside seat to the meltdown in mortgage-backed securities.
Andrews' financial expertise proved no match for his powers of denial. Worthwhile message: If Andrews can be this stupid, anybody can be.
Katha Pollitt, Nation columnist and celebrated poet. In her excellent book "Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories," Pollitt depicts unflinchingly her failure to see that her live-in boyfriend was a philanderer and all-around jerk, and her subsequent obsession with stalking him via the Internet. Universities should consider inviting Pollitt to tell these mortifying tales to their graduating classes.
Worthwhile message: Don't let love make you stupid.
Eliot Spitzer. But I'm tired of hearing New York's ex-gov expel his sexual demons (or "gremlins," as he called them on the "Today" show). So scratch that.
Mark Rudd, author of "Underground: My life with SDS and the Weathermen," is a refreshing departure from Weather Underground vets like Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, who continue to glamorize their radical past and to deny the Underground's violent intentions.
Rudd sees "very little positive" in the Weather Underground and much to be ashamed of, including its destruction of Students for a Democratic Society, the anti-war group the Weather Underground grew out of.
He doesn't deny that the explosives that killed three Underground members in a Greenwich Village brownstone in 1970 were intended to kill soldiers and their dates at Fort Dix, N.J. He feels bad about the toll his life took on his parents.
Worthwhile message: Don't intellectualize violence.
As failures go, this is a pretty genteel list, heavy on published authors, most of them affiliated with establishment publications.
But they are more familiar than most with the ways a life can go off the rails, and they've been willing to speak frankly about their failures.

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