Photo courtesy of KFC

Mayor McCheese was unavailable

Tim Nelson
June 14, 2018

College graduation is a special occasion where a mass of hungover 22-year-olds try to glean some last-second wisdom before they’re ushered across a stage and into adulthood. Schools with sizable endowments often recruit a notable scholar, celebrity, or public figure who inspires us to see the world and our place in it a little bit differently. Think of David Foster Wallace’s famous “This is Water” speech delivered to Kenyon College’s class of 2005 and you start to get the idea.

The Art Institute of Portland has decided to go a different route. They’ve chosen KFC mascot Colonel Sanders to give the speech. Technically, ultra-crispy actor George Hamilton will be playing the role of Colonel Sanders, complete with graduation regalia. Oregon Live wasn’t able to confirm with the school the speech is happening (I’d be embarrassed too), but an Edelman advertising agency spokesperson confirmed the gig was on.

The premise is patently absurd, but at least it sounds like Hamilton/Sanders’s speech won’t stray too far from the general commencement format. The speech will draw on the life story of KFC founder Harland Sanders, who didn’t launch the first successful Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was in his 60s. Hamilton will use that as a springboard to espouse boilerplate maxims like “Every failure is a stepping stone to something better” and “Life brings you places you have never imagined. No matter what, enjoy the ride.” Presumably, he’ll also tell graduates that their future is looking finger-lickin’ good™ and that they shouldn’t be afraid to Double Down™ on their dreams.

One has to wonder what led the Art Institute of Portland to sign off on this. Is it an elaborate performance art piece about the pervasiveness of commercialism in our adult lives? A subtle reminder to graduating arts students that they may have to sell out and do graphic design work for a multinational corporation in order to pay off their student loans? Did KFC make the nonprofit school an offer they just couldn’t refuse? So far, details aren’t forthcoming.

Call me an idealist, but I think having your graduation ceremony co-opted by a fast food brand so blatantly aiming for virality would spoil what should be an unforgettable moment. Then again, my commencement speaker went on to become governor of Missouri only to resign in disgrace less than two years later, so I guess it could be worse. For the curious, you can watch the speech on KFC’s YouTube channel after it takes place on Friday, June 15.


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