Speaking of Speakers

With tongue firmly in cheek, David Galef describes U of All People's quest for an appropriate commencement speaker.

April 28, 2017

The roses are blooming on the quad, and the adjuncts are planning how to get through the summer without salary, which means that commencement at U of All People is imminent (those roses cost money and are planted at the last minute, to impress alumni). Over the years, meanwhile, the commencement venue has moved from the amphitheater to the arts center to the multipurpose ballroom in Building A -- the space with a foldout screen to adjust for low attendance.

But the main difficulty is procuring a speaker for the graduation ceremony, to the point where we’re soliciting suggestions from even the Faculty Senate. “The list of creeps and losers speaking at the U of All People graduation exercises boggles the imagination,” claims Professor of Political Science Cam Payne, Faculty Senate head and No. 1 on the university president’s hit list. “It’s time we took a stand.” Unfortunately, Payne’s favored candidate is Adlai E. Stevenson, who died in 1965. With less than half a month to go, the speaker gap has reached epic proportions.

Here’s whom we’ve already asked:

Jess Rigged, CEO at ProTest, a company that rose to prominence in 2010 in the wake of a testing scandal at its competitor, ConTest. “We have the answer!” is ProTest’s slogan, and the company has proved its boast by providing more answers for standardized forms than there are questions listed. U of All People uses ProTest for all its metrics, including the annual assessment of its assessment programs. But Rigged has recently become embroiled in a scandal for peddling test answers to the Chinese, and his standard speech, “A Test for Everyone,” now has disturbing implications. In any event, Rigged declined the invitation, since he’ll be in Fujian that day on company business.

Rill Fickle, a senator from our state known for crossing party lines on such issues as multilingual classrooms and teacher salaries, sometimes several times during one vote. “You can’t spell ‘diversity’ without d-i-e,” he says, confusingly, or maybe just confusedly. Still, about 45 percent of the faculty voted for him last election. (His opponent, Walt Wright, campaigned to abolish higher education as elitist.) Though Fickle never replied to our request, his press secretary, Knott Frank, did, politely declining. That may have something to do with a horde of U of All People undergraduates outside Fickle's office in 2015, protesting one of his tweets: “Have student issues? Gesundheit!”

Wei Kapp, the 10-year-old founder of HornyApp, a tech start-up that grossed $37 million last year for its photo app that adds devil’s horns to people’s head shots. “You can do it with your fingers, but HornyApp is so much cooler lol,” he texted in a Bizness 2Day interview. A whopping 65 percent of U of All People students have his app on their cellphones. An inspiration to young entrepreneurs everywhere, Kapp has already pledged .005 percent of the company’s profits to his favorite charity, Safe Halloween. But Kapp has other obligations that week, including helping his father clean out the garage.

Other tries include Sue Crose, the head of Sweet Charity, an organization dedicated to improving the candy that children eat. Crose did hint that she might speak at commencement if U of All People made a major pledge, but a recent investigative article revealed that 95 percent of all donations to Sweet Charity go to cover administrative costs. By comparison: at U of All People, the administrative costs are only 90 percent.

We also reached out to the musician-writer-artist Stupor, whose self-made single “Think I’m Stupid? Stupid!” went viral on YouTube last year and won an Almost-Grammy. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to establish contact. “His EarthLink account appears to be defunct,” claimed Kant Dewett of our development office, after a quick Google search. This is a continuing issue with that office, which tends to employ people who failed at PR.

We briefly considered local lawyer and wine enthusiast Don D. Hatch, useful in reversing many DUI charges for our students and lately branching into politics. But we’ve used Hatch twice already, and the students and faculty are tired of the same speech that concludes, “A toast to the future!”

Note: We did have one person who repeatedly offered to speak at the U of All People commencement, but he wants to rebrand the school “Trump University.” We’re thinking about it.


David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book, Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, was recently published by Columbia University Press.


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