Buckley urges graduates to look beyond recession

Christopher Buckley ’75 drew laughs at this afternoon’s Class Day ceremony where he addressed the — as he put it, “darned smart and really good-looking” — members of the class of 2009.

In a self-deprecating and quote-laden speech, Buckley encouraged graduates to “go forth and speak the cool lines” and to find humor and opportunities in the “crummy economy that [our generation has] kindly provided you with.”

Chris Buckley '75 addresses the Class of 2009.
Zeke Miller
Chris Buckley '75 addresses the Class of 2009.

It was a humorous speech, fitting for the uncertain time in which the class of 2009 is entering a highly unfavorable job market — a time that Buckley called the “Great Recession.” (Read the full text of his remarks here.)

Buckley, who spoke at his own class day as the senior class historian over 30 years ago, confessed that he was nervous to be back on an Old Campus stage. After admitting his fondness for quoting Mark Twain, Buckley set the tone of his speech with words Twain once used before a large, intimidating audience.

“Homer’s dead, Shakespeare’s dead, and I myself am not feeling at all well,” he said.

Looking back on his own graduation, Buckley retold the story of the speech he delivered, in which he uttered a certain four letter word that began with the letter of a failing grade, as he put it. The speech compelled his father to give him, as a graduation present, a typewriter noticeably lacking those four particular keys, Buckley said.

“I’d like to start off today, 34 years later, by formally apologizing to God, Country and Yale,” Buckley said of his former words, “For my appalling lapse of lux et veritas on that otherwise lovely May day.”

He added that his audience would hear only the expectedly refined and lofty sentiments typical of a Yale English major.

But the speech was composed of more than just amusing anecdotes and fond recollections of times past. While graduates may perceive May 2009 as a less-than-terrific time to set out on life’s journey, Buckley said, he encouraged graduates to relish the uncertainty of the present.

“As the saying goes,” Buckley said, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.” Quoting the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, he added that “life is best understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.”

Clouds loomed ominously on the horizon, but the weather remained sunny and warm through the ceremony. In an interview with the News, Buckley said he was especially happy with the weather because, as he put it, there is nothing more disheartening than “seeing people flee before you are done speaking.”

Although he was once the chief speechwriter for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush ’48, Buckley is perhaps best known for his political commentary and satire. He wrote the novel-turned-movie Thank You for Smoking.

Most recently, Buckley made headlines when he endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential election. The endorsement eventually led to his resignation from the National Review, the right-leaning newsmagazine founded by his father, conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. ’50.

Following Buckley’s speech, 14 student prizes were awarded to 23 graduating seniors. Jarrad Aquirre ’09 and Emily Morrell ’09 each won not just one but two prestigious University prizes.

Mathew Evans ’09, Emily Schofield ’09 and Tina Ho ’09 received prizes for high scholarship in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences or Mathematics respectively.

Additionally, this afternoon six Yale College faculty members received Class Day faculty prizes.

Towards the end of the day’s festivities, Class Insight speaker Steven Kochevar ’09 mused in his address to his classmates that, “we’ve learned that we are all profoundly different but that we stand strongest when we find our common ground.”

Yale College Dean Mary Miller also spoke at the event, giving her first Class Day address as dean. Although she stumbled through a few of her remarks, she nevertheless garnered a few laughs from the audience.

Buckley’s speech appeared to be received warmly and he earned a standing ovation from the thousands gathered on the sea of white chairs aligned on Old Campus.

”Have adventures, make journeys, make memories,” Buckley told the Class of 2009. “Make future Yalies!”

Eric Randall contributed reporting


  • jams 62

    er, "The Great Recession" is not just Buckley's name for it

  • Anonymous

    "Buckley’s speech appeared to be received warmly and he earned a standing ovation from the thousands gathered on the sea of white chairs aligned on Old Campus."

    Thousands? Really?

  • Reaver

    I would have loved to watch a video of this.

  • Recent Alum

    Does anyone seriously still take Buckley Jr. seriously? What his speech should have been about is how wrong he was about the election and how sorry he is to have misled so many of his fans in voting for Obama.

  • Yale'08

    There are at least 4000 people assembled during class day: ~1300 graduating seniors + at least 2 family members there to see each one (~2600). That would be thousands, yes.

  • @ #2

    well… 1300 graduates + undergrads who are still around + friends and family (figure at least one per grad) = more than 2000 = thousands.

    + there are almost 18,000 chairs on old campus and @ least 2/3 of them were full. again… thousands.

  • '72 alumna

    Yes, thousands. Over a thousand seniors and one to four parents each, plus siblings, grandparents, doting aunts.

  • '72 alumna
  • Ken McKenna ('75, PhD '78)

    Well, maybe one had to be there.

    I DID happen to be there in 1975 for Chris' first Class Day speech. He's too modest … and therefore revisionist (odd, that). His '75 speech wasn't really shocking, it was just bad. Worse, it was "bad" attempting to conceal itself as "shocking." That's really bad: as bad as that quote from the bathroom wall. Fortunately for everyone, he did better, later. Épater la bourgeoisie, Chris! But as a general rule, it's best not to include a bathroom graffito whose entire effect is lost, but whose entire meaning preserved, when its embedded obscenity is replaced with the word "goofed."

    It's also best not to bring it up again 34 years on. I don't mean to be a curmudgeon, but at least as it lies unconscious on the internet page, this year's speech is neither bad nor shocking. Just predictable and banal. But maybe the effect was all context and living nuance? Maybe one had to be there? Maybe one had to be there in the full effervescent spirit of the Day with a couple of good stiff gin and tonics already under one's belt? Worse could happen. I'll try watching some of the replay.

  • Whatever

    It was a totally fine example of the kind of address he intended it to be…a bit more lite than some would have hoped, perhaps, but less egregiously so than Tony Blair's and Anderson Cooper's recent contributions to the event.

  • RecentAlum2

    @#4 - OMG, yes, Obama is soooooo terrible. We're going to be become such a socialist & fascist country because of him. George W. Bush was AWESOME - this country had no problems when he was our president. We were so perfect!!! [Did I capture your thinking pretty accurately?]

    Buckley's speech was funny, I'm sure he delivered it well. Incidentally, #4 Buckley IS a Republican, just not someone representative of Republican leadership…not sure who you wanted, but I doubt most of the graduating class and their parents would want to be subjected to Rush Limbaugh or Karl Rove. Sorry.

  • David P. McKnight

    Hooray for the Continuing Yale Buckley Tradition, whichever turns and bends it encounters along the trails and byways from the mid 20th Century to the mid 21st.

    Adventuresome or even philosophical conservatism emanating from Yale and New Haven now meets with greater attention as we would-be Southern liberals take note of more and more "liberal consensus" that regulation of the press here in the "progressive South" either by our own state legislatures or by other larger media organizations usually based in the Northeast is a constitutional breach which is simply to be condoned to assure that we "learn to think right" amidst the "Southern Ivies," whever these institutions happen to be.

    Yale can continue to be at least one Ivy League university which prides itself on being attuned to the perceptions and concerns of folks from all walks of life across the country.

    David P. McKnight
    Durham, N.C.

  • VDH

    Cute and sometimes funny in a canned corporate kind of way, but someone should tell Mr. Buckley that the president's name is no longer "Bush" and that "topical" political references need to be kept updated.

    It is almost midsummer of President Obama's first year and there is no longer any need to constantly reference the past administration, usually in disingenuous fashion.

    We know already that we have elected the first post-racial president whose personal profile represents a landmark change from previous presidents.

    And we don't need any more generic nouns like hope/change in lieu of honesty about a lot of things: Our annual borrowing may reach $2 trillion; states are going bankrupt; massive infusions of borrowed cash must be paid back and cannot masquerade the prior ineptness of business and labor models in banking and the auto industry that sent firms into bankruptcy. Even higher taxes won't begin to cover the cost of proposed massive new spending programs that are unprecedented. All the prior demonized Bush anti-terrorism protocols have been kept with mere hope and change veneers.

    In other words, rather than explaining the bleak choices before us and explaining why his preferences have the best chance of succeeding, Obama has so far reduced his presidency to two themes: "Bush did it" and "I'm not your normal white male President." If he keeps this monotony up, at some point even the comedians are going to notice the predictability.

    Perhaps even Chris Buckley will notice? Maybe even the cheering Class of '09 will notice as they recall wildly applauding a Secretary of State who had absolutely nothing to say about North Korea's first successful nuclear test? Always sound Dean Miller noted that good education is expensive and worth it, but Yale tuition is just a down payment.

  • Esther W.

    Ugh. 'We are all profoundly different but we stand strongest when we find common ground.'

    … You would hope that after 4 years and $200,000 one would be able to reflect back on one's time at Yale without indulging in the most trite and banal cliches…

  • y08

    From a student's perspective, Buckley delivered.

    It was a great speech--appealing to both parents and kids. I sat through PM Blair's at my own class day, and while I thought Blair's speech was good, it paled in comparison to Buckley. Yes, I'm able to say that I heard a former PM speak at my class day, but '09 got a much better speech.

  • Yale Parent

    I was a bit angry about Buckley Jr. having been selected as the Class Day speaker because of issues related to the alleged abandonment of his non-marital child. After hearing him speak, I found him witty and engaging and think there has got to be much more to the story and the veracity of the report of abandonment may be in question. I found myself laughing at some of the comments he made during his speech. He can't be so bad after all.

  • Anonymous

    #14: Sometimes something is repeated often because it just so happens to be true. The negative modifier cliched is usually only applied by people who disagree with that wisdom. I hope that in the future you can make a point with your comment rather than insult the previous commenter with a banal and unoriginal insult. Better luck next time.

  • Barb

    He's written a wonderful Memoriam to his parents, replete with rare photos. Never knew his mother but knew his dad casually, while working for that magazine that liberals hate. Chris is talented, as well as personable--a chip off the old…