When choosing who would pick the speaker for the graduation in 1968, that responsibility fell to the 1968 senior class president, Steve Rothman.
“… I took the initiative and went to Principal Ed Brown and asked if I could search to find a speaker,” said Rothman.
When searching, Rothman made a list of names of famous people that were in Sarasota at that time. So, when Rothman approached Brown with the list of people, including Kantor’s name, Brown’s reaction was unexpected.
“When Mr. Brown approved the list, he insisted that I not go to Kantor until everyone else turned me down. Based on that reaction, I of course (being this was 1968) went to Mac [MacKinlay Kantor] first,” Rothman said.
After “bribing” Kantor with a cheesecake from his family’s bakery, Rothman’s job of choosing the speaker was decided.
The speech was “dynamic and exciting,” but as well as being interesting, the speech also touched on some difficult subjects. The ceremony happened a week after former US Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, and three months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Rothman talks about how it put a lot into perspective and how it resonated with a lot of students.
When asked about the student response to his speech, Rothman talks about the fact that a lot of students were fully engaged.
“It was 1968. Those students who were interested, especially in authors and books, thought it was amazing. Other students were in a ‘hippie haze’ and were just glad to get their diploma and be done with school,” said Rothman.
The most amazing part about the speech is that later, in one of Kantor’s books, the speech was written again.
“I have done a lot of research on commencement speeches and 50-year reunions, and I can find no example of anyone hearing their Commencement speech again 50 years later. We are very fortunate that Mac included the speech in his next book, Missouri Bittersweet, in 1969. Thus the 'time capsule' of words we will hear with Howard Millman adding his theatrical talents to making the speech come alive again,” said Rothman.
Millman’s reenactment of the famed speech will take place at 12 noon on Nov. 3 in the RPAC. Everyone is invited to this free event.