An odd idea, well done but with, it would seem, a relatively small audience. The editors have gathered together the transcripts of a number of commencement speeches given at American colleges and universities in the 1980s and ’90s by a variety of notables and celebrities (including Dan Rather, Carl Sagan, Mario Cuomo, and Ronald Reagan, among others). A number of the speeches are surprisingly good: funny, frank, even occasionally stirring. Others, sounding both glib and bland, would seem to indicate the homogenizing presence of ghostwriters. The best pieces include Russell Baker’s hilarious address offering advice to graduates (—Don—t go around in clothes that talk. There’s already too much talk in the world—); Toni Morrison’s powerful meditation on violence and hatred; and Hank Aaron’s heartfelt discussion of courage. A final section gathers together commencement speeches given over the past century (including addresses by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr.), remind one of how unique and lasting a truly great commencement address can be. Few of the contemporary pieces, affecting as some of them are, reach those heights.