Grinnell, Iowa - EDITORS’ NOTE: Video of Giles’ remarks (and the rest of Grinnell’s commencement ceremony) is available upon request. Please contact Stacey Schmeidel, director of media relations, 641/269-4659. More information is available at www.grinnell.edu/news/commencement-2014.
In a year in which college commencement speakers across the country were protested, canceled or rearranged due to withdrawal, CBS Sunday Morning commentator Nancy Giles offered Grinnell College graduates a commencement speech that was controversy-free.
“I’m kind of disappointed that there was no outcry over my invitation to speak,” Giles told Grinnell’s Class of 2014, teasingly. “I was waiting for things to blow up on Twitter. I was looking forward to withdrawing from my speech so that the college could have ‘a celebratory day that was focused on you, the graduates.’”
Instead, the comedian and actor noted, with a smile, “I’m here, just a black chick on Weight Watchers with a short ’fro and a puzzled expression.”
In a humorous and insightful address, Giles recalled the surprises of her career—not always pleasant—while invoking It’s a Wonderful Life: “Our lives have a purpose,” she told the graduating class. “Our lives connect to other lives, and when one thing changes, everything changes.”
Giles told the graduates about her own dreams of “making a splash”—first on stage in high school and college, then while doing comedy as a member of The Second City in Chicago, then as an actor in television and film. She offered the graduates “Some Things That Make Sense to Me”—as opposed to Oprah Winfrey’s “Things I Know for Sure”: “Be proud of yourself for all you have accomplished,” Giles said. “Know that we all make mistakes. Life isn’t fair—but there’s comedy in the unfairness. And you will learn to find your own voice.”
In closing, Giles urged the graduates to run for office—“all of you. Because we need people like you in office. And if one thing changes, everything changes.”
Giles received an honorary degree from Grinnell, as did longtime literary agent Sterling Lord ’42, responsible for the careers of (among others) Jack Kerouac and the Berenstain Bears; and Dorje Gurung ’94, an educator who last year was wrongfully imprisoned in Qatar on charges of insulting Islam. A coalition of Grinnell graduates and others sparked a movement that prompted his release.
In the second year of a new tradition, the college also presented an honorary degree to a secondary school teacher—Jaya Subramanian,a teacher at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alton Calif.
More than 3,000 people attended Grinnell’s graduation ceremony, which was held on central campus on a blustery day. Grinnell presented degrees to 374 graduating seniors, whose post-Grinnell plans range from teaching, to travel and service abroad, to public policy work and graduate school.
About Grinnell College
Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many international countries. Grinnell's rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at www.grinnell.edu.