Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bill Clinton's speech: preliminary take

I'll be honest, I enjoyed his speech, even though it was almost all b.s. and he's so gosh-darned slick that it's impossible to take anything he says seriously anyway. I'll write about its substance at length when I have more time (busy all day with the folks and grad events and packing this week), but I did want to mention my favorite non-substantive parts. Clinton talked about the other serious speakers invited to class day (it's usually comedians, like Ali G or Will Ferrell, or this amazing, must-read Conan O'Brien speech), and singled out the following: Martin Luther King (who was killed that very spring, so his wife gave the speech), Mother Teresa, and (I swear I'm not making this up) .... Bono! I have to admit, I lost it, and kept on cracking up uncontrollably every time he came back to this (he did quite often) and repeated the MLK, Mother Teresa, and Bono line. I'm sorry, but Bono? The people behind me definitely thought I was nuts, but I couldn't help it, I kept on giggling every time he said Bono.

I also cracked up when he spoke of his world travels and used incredibly corny lines, like "In the African village I visited, they have a word, bobada, and it means 'that which connects us all'" or like "the villagers there don't say 'How are you?', they say 'I see you' - but do we really see each other?" These aren't verbatim, and I made up the african word he used (but it sounded something like that [UPDATE: It was ubuntu]), but are basically the lines he used. Then he told what should have been a very moving story about a woman who lost nine of her ten children in the tsunami, and how he saw her remaining child, and "it was the most beautiful baby I've ever seen." I'm sorry, but the way he said it, with all his squinting and over-the-top 'charisma', I was giggling like a schoolgirl. When he then told the story of meeting another African baby, and naming it 'Dawn,' because it represented hope, I was literally pinching myself to keep from guffawing.

Another classic moment: after his speech, the organizers brought out a saxophone and asked him to play it. He got mad. I mean, visibly angry. I was shocked. It was incredibly rude of the organizers to bring out a sax like that, after a serious speech, and expect him to act like a trained monkey and amuse the students, but still, I was expecting him to joke about it and refuse with a smile, but he really got pissed off for a moment there. Also, and I'll get to this when I cover the substance of his speech (short version: what we all have in common is far more important than what distinguishes us - I liked it since it reminded me of Flannery O'Connor's vision of all our virtues being burned away), but even though he got huge applause, his words clearly went in one ear and out the other, because the speakers almost immediately went back to the very attitude that his entire speech was against.

On a closing note, the best line of the day, from a student speaker, giving a very funny speech. He was talking about Love Story (set at Harvard) and how much it reminds him of his own life. "I, too, have cancer [the crowd goes quiet, very confused, concerned] . . . Not 'real' cancer, but cancer . . . for Harvard." Huge uncomfortable silence, everyone on stage behind him looked shocked and disgusted (except one friend of mine, who was cracking up). Anyway, in very poor taste, but I loved it, very Sarah Silverman-y (mature content and language warning there, btw).

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