Monday, October 8, 2012

Clarence Darrow's Commencement Speech at Senn High School

Senn High School on Chicago's North side at the corner of Ridge Ave. and Clark St. has been around since 1911.

Chicago's Senn High School

 Apparently it's been a very funny place at one time or another, having produced kiddie show comic Shecky Greene, kiddie show puppeteer, Burr Tillstrom (creator of Kukla, Fran and Ollie), National Lampoon comic actor/director, Harold Ramis and TV and movie comic actor Harvey Korman.

Today it is supposedly trying to improve by adding magnet programs and in 2005 added a Naval military program.

But it is pretty much as big of a cesspool as most Chicago Public Schools today. A few years ago a girl was raped in a passageway there during school hours.

Anyway, the best oration ever likely given there was made by famed Chicago defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow at the 1918 Senn commencement ceremony.
Clarence Darrow, famed Chicago-based
criminal defense attorney and social gadfly

Darrow was apparently as prescient as he was brilliant.

After sitting on the stage listening to an hour or so of public school educators blather on and on about how their brilliant graduates must "go forth and serve," etc. etc -- yada, yada, yada -- he got up and uttered the following famous words to the 500 Senn graduates:

"Look -- let's you fellows down there relax now. 

That was as fine a lot of bunk as I ever heard in my life, and I know darned well you youngsters didn't believe a word of it. 

You're no more fit to "go forth and serve" than the man on the moon. 

You're just a bunch of ignorant kids, full of the devil, and you've learned practically nothing to show for the four years you spent here. 

You can't fool me, because I once spent four years in just such a place."

According to Irving Stone, author of the 1941 Darrow biography, Clarence Darrow for the Defense (Bantam Books, p.7) the parents were shocked, the Senn faculty was purple with rage but the kids were ecstatic.

They thought that Clarence Darrow's Senn High School commencement speech of 1918 was the only good sense they had heard in months.

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