Tuesday, April 1, 2008

You'll love Chuck Norris' graduation speech, or else

You've got to hand it to Liberty University.

When it comes time to find a graduation speaker, most colleges rummage through their Rolladexes and come up with a politician or a business leader or a prominent alumnus. The majority of them are crushingly boring.

LU, on the other hand, has moved way outside the box. Its graduation speaker this year will be Chuck Norris, Mr. Texas Ranger himself.

Don't get too excited, though. I've learned not to.

For those of us in the news business, there is nothing more frustrating than having an interesting graduation speaker waved in our face.

Generally, the person arrives just before the event, reads off a speech full of typical graduation platitudes ("Today is the first day of the rest of your life"; One person can make a difference," etc) and is gone without a trace or an interview opportunity. And all the things that really interest us about that individual are never addressed.

I remember being part of the newspaper team covering George Bush the Elder when he came to speak at LU one year. The Falwell reporter (Jerry was a beat unto himself then) got a piece of him, the political reporter another piece.

"What do you want me to do?" I asked our then City Editor, Bob Morgan.

He thought for a minute.

"I need for you to go out to the airport and make sure his plane doesn't crash."

The worst speaker I ever heard was also at Liberty, Attorney General Ed Meese.

You'd think an Attorney General would have a lot to say about the state of the nation, but I knew we were in trouble when Meese opened with: "I was reading a magazine on the plane here today and came across this quote ..."

Translation: He didn't have the foggiest idea what he was going to talk about when he got on that plane.

Maybe Norris could incorporate some brick-breaking or martial arts throws into his speech. He's older than I thought, though, actually crowding in on age 70. And his real name is Carlos (I learned that from Wikipedia).

Norris was constantly at Mike Huckabee's side during the latter's unsuccessful campaign, perhaps in case the candidate were to be menaced by a terrorist (or Democrat) with a black belt.

"He's a strong Christian, he's a strong conservative, and he's honored to be coming to LU," said school chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr.

In recent years, Norris has spoken out on such issues as creationism (he's for it) and prayer in public schools (ditto).

In fact, Norris' wife Gena sent a telegram to the student body saying that God wanted Chuck to be there.

He may have wanted Laura Bush there, too, but she turned down an earlier invitation (a prior commitment with her daughters). So on May 10, in the LU football stadium, Liberty students will get to listen to the first local commencement speaker ever able to beat up anyone in the audience (even at 67).

Perhaps Norris will even put his own spin on the typical graduation mush.

"It's time to spread your wings, and smack somebody upside the head."

"One man with a gun can make a difference."

It would be a refreshing change.