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.”
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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