Ole Miss Graduation:Commencement speaker, Jon Meacham, illuminates grads

Published 2:02 am Sunday, May 14, 2017

The shade that the Grove normally provides wasn’t necessary for this year’s Ole Miss graduation ceremony.

Though it was an overcast morning, the commencement speaker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author (and Tennessean) Jon Meacham, had some illuminating words for the recent graduates.

“You are heading off to lives of great consequence,” Meacham said early in his speech. “You’re going to encounter an infinity of joy and of sorrows. God willing, there will be more of the former.”

Much of Meacham’s speech was based around his idea of history being an ever-changing entity and something that can “shape the present and future.”

“For history is not clinical,” he said. “It’s not a distant or remote thing. It’s an ambient reality. For if the men and women of the past, with all of their flaws and limitations, could overcome selfishness, greed, racism and sexism, to form a more perfect union, then maybe we can, too.”

The author and current contributing editor at TIME Magazine noted how this year’s graduates have already lived through multiple notable historical events and that they “know what history feels like.”

Meacham also spoke about the history of the South and all the trials and successes it has gone through.

“We are only a century and a half away from Appomattox,” he said. “And just 50 years away from Selma. In its long and tangled history, the American South has embodied the best and the worst of our national and our human impulses. There’s always more work to be done, more miles to travel, more wrongs to right.”

Though Meacham said it is easy to judge the past, he added that we should do so through a certain lens.

“We learn the most from those who came before, not by looking up on them critically or down on them condescendingly,” he added. “But looking them in the eye, judging them for what they were and what they did, and taking their true measures as human beings, not as gods or as demons.”

He closed his speech with advice for the graduates to experience life, have conversations and “look up from (their) screens.”

“Be curious, be generous, be gracious, be hopeful,” he said. “Above all, remember that in hours of joy and of darkness that a life well lived is judged not by the bottom line, but by the big picture.”

Alex Beachum, a graduating Risk Management Insurance and Business Administration major from Booneville appreciated Meachum’s insight.

“It’s been a busy semester and four years,” he said. “I’ll always miss this place, but I won’t miss doing the work.”

Bethany Jane Aiena, 28, who earned her doctorate of philosophy in clinical psychology similarly reflected on her tenure at Ole Miss with fondness.

“Ole Miss was a great for me because it was a time of both personal and professional growth,” she said. “I’m eternally grateful to the professors who shaped me into the psychologist I am today and for the school for supporting me during my academic journey. And for my parents who answered many late night phone calls.”