Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Speech By: Marion Roach Smith
Date: 2002
Occasion: Commencement
Let’s begin with full disclosure – Marion Roach Smith is a friend, and writing instructor. She teaches an excellent writing class here in the capitol region, and, whether you are looking to develop, or just hone your writing skills, I highly recommend it.

That said – let’s take a look at 15 Rules for Us Girls to Live By.

One of the difficult tasks in delivering a commencement address is the opening. While it is the speaker’s assigned mission to offer insight and words of wisdom to the audience, from the speaker’s own perspective, “I” is a terrible way to start a speech. Yet people are there to listen to what “You” have to say.

Marion handles this dilemma quite nicely. “Why would I be asked to speak at a school commencement, my daughter wanted to know?” It’s a great start, because it’s a little self-deprecating, it’s a question asked by someone else, and, it’s even a great way to let the audience know she has a daughter. That last point means she has created instant identification with the two main elements of the audience – the parents, who are obviously also the parents of daughters, and those daughters themselves.

Then she proceeds to focus attention directly on the new graduates by offering her 15 rules.

First is: “Never be without at least one pair of red shoes. There are few situations in life that cannot be improved by them.” All right, I have to confess – I’m not really a “red shoes” kind of guy. Although I do have a pair of white bucks, which, worn with the blue seersucker suit on a bright summer day, makes people notice. In a good way. So I kind of get this.

Next is: “Don’t read the Cliff Notes. Read the book.” Face it, this is not a rule for “Us Girls,” it’s a rule for everybody. I already knew what evolution was, and how it worked, when I read Darwin’s Origin of Species. But reading the book, and understanding how he arrived at his conclusions, made Darwin’s theory available in a new way. I hope by now, eight years later, those in Marion’s audience are able to cite their own examples.

Next we get to: “Wear lipstick. All right, we have now reached a point in the speech that far exceeds by limited ability to fathom. I don’t get lipstick. I don’t just mean on me – I don’t even get why women wear it! So, to make it a “rule to live by,” simply is beyond my comprehension.

Marion goes on to explain: “It feels great, and it’s fun, and all too often we depend on other people to make us feel good and show us a good time. Get yourself some lipstick, and every time you apply it, remember that this is one of your rules of life: to show yourself a good time, in your shade, on your terms.


In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m a real guy, and particularly fond of the girl-next-door look to boot. This explanation still hasn’t helped much.

The nearest I can figure is that wearing lipstick for a woman is like throwing a ball for a man. There’s nothing like picking up a ball at a picnic or on a playground, and throwing a nice tight spiral. It’s even better if you can snap off a throw with zip, maybe enough to get that nasty little hum which warns the guy about to catch it that his hands are going to burn when he does. Then the guy at the receiving end picks it back up and tries to throw it back exactly the same way. Perhaps it’s like that.

I don’t know.

So why am I focusing so much attention on one out of fifteen rules, particularly one I admittedly don’t understand? Here’s the thing – I don’t need to know. It’s not intended for me, or anyone like me. It was meant to be heard, and understood, by the girls of the Albany Academy. Marion has not only connected with those girls in a way they can personally identify – but in a way that even has the power to exclude some of those listeners for whom the speech is not intended! What wonderful shared identification!

There are a dozen more rules, many of which apply to everyone, some of which – not so much. But I bet Marion had their attention for every one of them!

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

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