The following is adapted from a speech delivered on May 9, 2015, at Hillsdale College’s 163rd Commencement ceremony.
Class of 2015, honored guests, faculty and members of the board of trustees of Hillsdale College: I bring cordial greetings from your erstwhile colonial overlords.
I bear warmest felicitations from Her Majesty The Queen, Professor Stephen Hawking, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, and the entire cast of Downton Abbey.
I think that covers all the important people in England. I, on the other hand, am distinctly unimportant, and so I’m all the more grateful for the invitation to be part of this special day. Thank you for having me. I only hope I can say something worthy of the occasion.
And I must say this, before I say anything else: Congratulations, class of 2015! In the famous words of that great Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Today you move from the end-of-your-beginning to the start-of-your-Commencement. I come from the Old World and in particular from Oxford, the home of lost causes, where we don’t have “Commencement”: we just graduate and diminish and go into the west and remain embittered. So America’s status as the home of fresh starts, of the pioneer spirit, of beginnings leading to commencements, sounds to me alarmingly positive and energetic.
Someone once remarked that if you combine British pessimism with American optimism, you get divine realism. Maybe this is why Churchill, with his British father and American mother, is such an Olympian figure, and I’ll be returning to Churchill at the end of my talk. But this is not yet the end of my talk; it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.