The Convocation Speech

A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that “individuality” is the key to success.

~Robert Orben

Today I happened to listen to the Chancellor of a deemed University, that has students from across India. There is no doubt that it is one of the finest educational institutions in India.

Incidentally, the Chancellor was a member of parliament as well. The Chief Guest was the speaker of India’s Parliament, the democratic institution that represents one-fifth of humanity. It was a big deal because the Speaker could grace the occasion, despite the position he was holding.

The Chancellor opened his speech with how successful the University had been. He quickly switched to the past convocations, pointing out the fact that three Prime Ministers including the incumbent, two Presidents, two past Speakers of the Parliament, and a couple of Vice-Presidents had graced the University’s Convocation in the past.

The speech went extolled the largesse of the present Chief Guest, his history, and achievements. There was no break, and finally, somewhere, the students who were to be awarded and their parents were remembered, almost like a footnote in his hour-long speech.

The Chief Guest, a Master’s degree holder himself, rose to speak. He spoke in chaste Hindi with an English translator. His speech started with the greatness of this democracy and how the democracy has changed for good during the rule of the current party.

‘The actions of the present government have reduced the corruption at all levels.’ He thundered in Hindi, with the demure voice of the translator following. ‘The youngsters of today should participate in democracy.’ He went on about how India has to reap the dividends of its human capital. He sounded exactly like the Prime Minister. The many thousand graduates-in-waiting had to listen to this, holding on to their bladders, and hungry and thirsty for almost four hours.

Because the Chief Guest was the Very Very Important Personality (VVIP), he was protected by the Z+ category cover (the highest security cover for any Indian leader).  The students were ushered in 2 hours ahead and were held inside the large air-conditioned auditorium.

Then came the parents. Most parents who worked in menial jobs or jobs that struggled to feed have put everything they had – mind, body, and money to see their sons and daughters achieve this feat. Now, they would not be allowed to see their kids getting the awards, but they were herded off into an enclosure, because of the security measures for the VVIP guest. I saw them clamoring for breakfast and lunch, even carrying an extra piece for their kids, lest they were hungry or thirsty.

It was a hot day, as thunderstorms were expected, but with the humidity, the day was like a typical summer day in Chennai.

When I met my son after graduation, I asked him how it all went and what he thought of it. His response was simple.

What sort of guy needs such protection that about ten thousand students, on the biggest day of their lives, are held hungry, thirsty, and bursting bladders against their will?

I smiled, for I had no answer. We took selfies and laughed over his photos in his graduation robe.

‘I don’t mind this suffering. I had my friends so we joked and chilled out. You don’t bother.’ He said, smiling in his typical skittish manner.

We had been brought up to be the ‘common man,’ to suffer in demure silence and to listen to these ‘inspiring’ speeches of men who dress in pristine white and walk with kings with sycophants and yes-men following their shadows.

I had a few questions that I put to myself.

  • Why would a politician be the Chief Guest of a graduate function?
  • What does it mean to those parents and students who hedge their lives and livelihoods to see this big day?
  • Why were the parents treated like second-class citizens by the very institution that earned its income from them?
  • Why would the Chancellor talk about the greatness of a politician rather not showcase that education was a tool that one could use to contribute to better lives and society, and highlight the success of their alma mater?
  • Why did the Chief Guest talk about democracy and the role of youngsters, rather than not connecting the dots between the youngster’s education, and how that could contribute to a better country?

Neither the Chief Guest nor the Chancellor connected with their audience. Maybe, a great chance to address the youth of this great country was missed.

The youngsters treated the graduation day like a get-together party. We returned home and treated ourselves to Pepsi and Pizza.

Graduation night was my last party,’ he said. ‘Or at least my last drink. After that night, I decided I was done with all of it.’

~Kody Keplinger, A Midsummer’s Nightmare


Ashok Subramanian
Ashok Subramanian
Ashok Subramanian is a Poet and Fiction Author based in Chennai, India. Ashok has been writing blogs and content since 2011. From technology and management articles, and to website content, Ashok has written articles on businesses, finance, funding, capital markets, management, strategy, and sustainability over the years. His poems and articles, which were published in blogs got a publishing turn when he had time in hand to put together his poetry and short story collections. He publishes short stories and poetry reviews regularly in his blog. His published works so far: a) Maritime Heritage of India - Contributing Writer - b) Poetarrati Volume 1 &2: Self-published on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback; Ranked #8 in Amazon Hot Releases in May 2020. c) A City Full of Stories: A Short fiction Collection based on people and events of Mumbai: Self-published in Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. d) Poetarrati Ponder 2020 - A collection of Poem Reviews He is currently working with his creative advisor and publisher on his next poetry collection. His second short story collection about Kolkata, India, and his first novel are in the manuscript stage. He is a graduate in Engineering from Madurai Kamaraj University, India, and a post-graduate in Management from IIM Calcutta, India. He currently runs Strategic Advisory and Investment Banking companies headquartered in Bengaluru. He lives with his wife Gayathri and son Anirudh in Chennai, India.

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  1. I agree with Steve. The key word here is “disconnect”. If I were in a position to secure a comencement speaker the last ones I would consider are professional politicians. They have one interest and one interest alone. Stay in power. Get reelected. They have nothing of value to share with a new generation. But, sadly, most of the higher educational institutions of today offer little real value themselves. But, that is a topic for another day.

  2. Ashok,
    Your story is a fine example of the disconnect between politicians and “regular citizens”. Most countries have long since gotten away from the “power is held in the hands of their people” and instead now resides in the hands of their leaders. No wonder why there is little change for most citizens because the day-to-day tribulations of society are not faced by the politicians who have doomed many to a lesser quality of life.