That indefinite day in early June when students of high and preparatory schools are released with diplomas would be no more critical in national affairs than the first of January or the Fourth of July were it not for the Commencement address. Once a harmless diversion which elders could not deny themselves, the address has become a dangerous habit more threatening than the Fourth of July oration.
A glance at the school and college section of the daily newspaper will show the extent of the danger. There are often fisted columns of names, as though after a serious accident, of those subjected to such addresses. The number alone is impressive; but when one considers that each, through kindness or a sense of duty, exposed a mind ordinarily at that age plastic and at that time unusually impressionable the possibilities are alarming.
The true source of the danger is that the commencement speech has become a habit. Its subject, its method, its technique is not changed to meet altered conditions. The flimsy subterfuge, "at no time before the youth of the country, etc," falls, for it too is habitual. The oldest living graduate, should his memory only serve him, would enjoy the familiar flourishes and fancies, the admonitions to develop character, industry, leadership, which he knew so well as a boy.
The truth is that the commencement address of 1912 would never have been suitable for 1914, nor would that of 1914 apply at all to the state of affairs in 1918. Today is unlike any previous period, not only in time but in evolution of ideas. Seldom have radical opinions upon any subject received so wide favor nor have they often come simultaneously from such heights of authority.
Such is the danger latent in the period of graduation. The well-known banalities are less than useless the graduate armed with them is fighting with a straw. The remedies are but two abolish the speeches, or reshape them to the time.