The test or the talk?

One of two things are certain at graduation: You'll have to listen to a speech, or you'll have to take a test. Sometimes it's hard to know which is worse.

A test may sound outlandish, given the wide variety of studies that students pursue in college. How do you test on general knowledge when what's defined as general is often highly specialized and doled out in disparate forms?

But that's just what some schools are doing (see story, page 21). At some private colleges, students are answerable for all four years of study. Some states arepushing public universities to give students tests in their major and on general education. But those aren't yet tied to graduation - which raises the question of how seriously students will take them.

Most of us would choose a speech over a test. But beware.

Many speakers, of course, have interesting things to say that will please both those who have paid the bills and those who are about to start. For excerpts of speeches that we enjoyed, turn to page 18.

But others? Seniors at the University of Massachusetts (Lowell) were less than thrilled by a close detailing of the latest on the Northern Ireland peace process by Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams. At Boston's Berklee School of Music, the president of music video channel VH1 sounded like a pitchman.

Colleges like big names. They hope for a breakthrough speech. But face it - despite 53 years of waiting, another Marshall Plan has yet to be announced at a commencement. So, speakers, focus on the students - let them remember you for the right reasons.

Otherwise, you may find more of them opting for the exam hall.

* E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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