Gazette Article by: John W. Madigan – President/CEO, Tribune Company
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1995
Winnetka Way articles are written by guest columnists who have been asked to share their memories of an aspect of Winnetka that they remember fondly. Winnetka Way articles debuted in 1994 and continue to the present.
June is commencement time, and I have wonderful memories of the graduation ceremonies at each Winnetka school I attended—Hubbard Woods, Skokie (where Cove School is now) and New Trier. As a student, all I had to do was show up, listen to a few speeches and accept my diploma.
So when my daughter graduated from Washburne a few years ago, I was flattered when the school asked me to speak at her graduation. (OK, I wasn’t the first choice: Mike Royko, Ann Landers and assorted sports figures were busy that day.)
Yet with years of business experience and the frequent public speaking that goes with it, I accepted what I thought would be a pleasurable and relatively easy assignment. Instead, I learned first hand what “flop sweat” (remember “Broadcast News”?) is all about.
As I went about preparing the message, I realized that in addition to my wife and daughter in the audience there would be my mother and sister as well, and I had never delivered a speech in front of them. Then my daughter laid down the rules about what I couldn’t say—which was about everything I originally planned—and things started getting a little sticky. It took me considerable time to prepare my brief remarks for this distinctly non-business audience of mothers, wives, sisters and kids—including my own.
Writing turned out to be the easy part. I practiced for some time and got comfortable with the mental image of how I would deliver my remarks in Washburne Auditorium. I felt confident as we headed for the school that June afternoon until my wife asked, “Where are you going? The ceremony is at Skokie School.”
Skokie School?! In the same Kuppenheimer Auditorium where I graduated in 1950? All sorts of memories rushed through my mind. My own graduation ceremony flashed back, of course. But the most vivid memory was of the sad and frightening assembly we had in Kuppenheimer after one of my classmates shot and wounded another in the school. The suddenness of the recollections gave me a shock.
My public-speaking confidence melted away in all these deep thoughts. I was as nervous as a junior high school kid again on that stage, pouring out perspiration as I tried to please my family, my neighbors and some of my old critics who I imagined must be there listening. I was reliving a bit of adolescence while everybody watched. I got through it, however, and even managed to receive a few polite compliments. It was the toughest speech I have ever had to give, yet the experience recalled that time of life when impressions are strong and made me think about how those impressions direct the choices we later make.
What a thrill to have spent most of my life in Winnetka and to live a block or so from where I grew up. I highly recommend it: geography binds. And in this instance, that geographic link allowed a simple graduation address to renew one man’s neglected ties with the boy still inside.