Why Don’t We Hear About Atheistic Graduation Speeches? May 5, 2012

Why Don’t We Hear About Atheistic Graduation Speeches?

Edwin Kagin offers a graduation speech for atheists:

We have tried to teach you the principals of reason, critical thinking, logical fallacy, ethical behavior, and the methods of science and evidence. We want you to know that there is a big difference between Righteousness and Self-Righteousness.

We want you to know and understand the difference between belief and proof; between faith and fact. We want you to know that you are part of a great historic tradition of bringing light unto darkness; that there is a difference between that which is ethical and that which is expedient; a difference between being truly moral and being a follower of religious rules. We want you to know that science is based on facts, not on fairy tales. That evolution is a fact and that “Creationism” is a fairy tale. That there is a difference between coincidence and causation. A difference between potential and actual…

For your own safety’s sake, we have tried to help you learn to distinguish between logic and fallacy; between science and superstition; between real and pretend; between the wonder of discovery and magical thinking. We want you to know the difference between doing and dogma; between imagination and mythology. And we want you to understand that learning never ends. We want you to know, as many do not, that life does not stop with High School graduation. None of us know the limits of what you may yet learn and what you may yet become. There will also be some pain and some disappointments. It is all part of the deal. We did not make the rules.

You know, with all the talk of Christians being urged to push their faith at graduation ceremonies, there’s no reason we couldn’t do the same thing…

I know we groan at the thought of students using their time on stage to talk about their faith — even if it’s legal for them to do so — but why not take advantage of the opportunity? It would be pretty awesome to hear a valedictorian or elected class speaker using the time to promote science over religion, or how we must be self-reliant instead of asking a god for help, or how coming out as an atheist was a turning point in your personal development…

In fact, if you’re a high school student and you get me proof (Video? Newspaper article?) that you spoke about your atheism at a graduation ceremony, I’ll send you a package full of atheist swag — signed books, wristbands, babies, etc. — as well as give you a proper shout-out on the site. (High stakes, I know.)

Good luck!

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  • Nice challenge! Hoping to see some results from this.

  • DG

    I absolutely agree.  I think a young student who is an atheist, who has worked and worked to earn the chance to give a speech, should be able to proclaim the world view that he or she feels was important.  I would have no problem with that at all.  Of course, the same goes with any graduation speech and any belief.  Funny thing is, most I talk to seem to feel the same way: keep them all out of the graduation, or let them all speak freely. 

  • TheAnalogKid

    Oh, I would love to see what reaction it would get. A walkout; chanting . . .

  • davidamusick

    People can say whatever made-up nonsense they want, and that is socially acceptable, yet if someone states a fact that happens to disagree with any of that nonsense, they are considered to be unspeakably rude.

    Students should be giving speeches about how the educational process has expanded their minds and helped them move past incorrect ideas they once held but that would be seen as extremely rude.

  • Michael

    What should they say? Something like “As a humanist I believe the most important things are the ones we do in this life and thankyou all for giving me a good start toward those goals”?

  • Fargofan1

    With the comment about Christians who “push their faith” and atheists who “do the same thing,” you could get believers saying, “Ha! See? Atheism is based on faith, just like religion!” I mean, I understand your point. But some would see that as a line to pounce on.

  • In high school they selected people to speak at graduation by asking all the students interested to write their speech to put up for review. They ended up selecting three. My English teacher told me my speech wasn’t “festive” and “traditional” enough, whatever that means. I loved my essay because I talked about what was important– what I learned, how much growth I saw through the years not only in myself but my peers, and I thanked people for giving me the opportunity to do so… like my mom, the principle, teachers, and even mentioned a janitor who I learned many words of wisdom from. Of course the word God/s wasn’t mentioned in my paper… but boy did I hear an earful of “God thanks” at my graduation. It irked me because some invisible dude was important enough to be mentioned right beside the people who actually made a difference.

    Oh well! Luckily for me there was no prayer, at least none that I remember. I was too busy playing with my band mates for the last time. 🙂

  • It bothered me a bit, too. An atheist speech isn’t a statement of faith. Even if the courts ruled that schools could exclude faith-based speeches, I don’t think the speech presented in the example could be prohibited.

  • Babies??? Yum! Tender, succulent BABIES! Fire up the grill!

    “I’d like to thank Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, and James Randi, who taught that the world is a wonderful place built on Reason, not a scary superstitious nightmare, filled with ‘evil spirits’…”

    People would walk out.

  • 69ingchipmunks

    I would say “I worked hard and I deserved this goddammit!”
    Thus you’ve made your point and taken their Lord’s name in vain. 

  • Steve Bowen

    Not that I qualify, I graduated a generation ago, but would the babies be smoked, pickled or otherwise preserved? We all like them fresh of course but in my experience they don’t retain that piquance for long.

  • rich h

    I know this won’t count, but in 1981, Barry Goldwater spoke at my graduation. He acknowledged Jeremiah Denton, who was a graduate’s father, who spent 7 years as a guest of the North Vietnamese… then he gave us advice.

    Basically, his advice was to trust the soldiers/sailors who work for you, and to cultivate a good working relationship with a senior enlisted to help make us successful in our tours in the military.

    Funny, he never mentioned god.  Then again, he would be labeled as a RINO because he wanted religion out of his politics.  (I once suckered a conservative sort to guess that one of his quotes was a Nancy Pelosi quote. )

  • The catch being, most of these kids are going off to college, and still going to be at least partly dependent on their parents for support. For this sort of speech not to involve monstrous personal risks to their future, the kid would have to be “out” already — probably second generation atheist.

    And if such an atheist is “out”, the older (and thus more religious) school administration officials seem likely to take steps in advance to limit the nature of the allowed speech so as to avoid such religiously controversial topics… and then re-open the standards when a Christian complains in another year.

  • Guest

    I am so opposed to this I hardly know what to say. Sending rewards to students as an incentive to inject statements of faith (or lack thereof) in commencement speeches is wrong; I am appalled that this is serious.

    What with this and the defense of Sam Harris’s proposed racial profiling (but only for brown people!), it makes me wonder how much you desire to emulate the religious right.

  • OK, so I’m just being pedantic here, but I wish people would learn the difference between principals and principles. While they’re at it, they could learn the difference between tenants and tenets as well.

    Moan over.(I’m a primary school teacher – can you tell?)

  • Naruen

    Does it count if, say, I give a speech in front of an English class, and not for graduation?

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