Michael Lewis' recent charming, and mildly subversive, commencement speech at Princeton attributed his professional success to luck, specifically being seated next to the wife of someone who worked at Salomon Bros., at a dinner in his 20s. He then went on to discuss a psychological study about how people who were randomly assigned "leaders" in a group felt they were entitled to an extra cookie. In the most tactful way possible, he suggested to the gathered Princeton graduates that they had that extra cookie but should understand very clearly that they don't deserve it.
When my mother was in high school, one of her suitors with literary aspirations wrote to J.D. Salinger asking him to write a letter addressing the graduates in the Andover yearbook. Somewhat surprisingly, Salinger wrote back to him, and the boy showed my mother the letter to impress her. Salinger had written something that could also apply to commencement speakers: "On the train to New York at Christmas time walk through the cars until you see a smallish boy struggling to get his suitcase up on the rack. He is sitting alone. He seems to have a cold and his nose is running. He is the one who should write to your graduates. Ask him."
Roiphe, professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, is the author most recently of "Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages," and the forthcoming "In Praise of Messy Lives."