Sometimes the best speech is the one you didn't have time to prepare

I went to something like my twelfth CMU Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences staff appreciation lunch (I’ve lost track). Basically, they feed you, recognize people who have worked some multiple of five years, and hold a raffle for ten cash prizes topping out at $100 (I won $75 last year). It’s a pleasant annual social event, but one whose details I don’t really remember from one year to the next.

But this year was different. I will not forget this year.

Where’s the dean?

The current dean, John Lehoczky, who always gives out the awards during the staff appreciation lunch, was nowhere to be found. This was especially mysterious because he was to be honored with a gift today, since he is stepping down as dean after fourteen years, to return to his duties as professor of statistics.


Lunch was pretty good, for me anyway. I had steak, potatoes, steamed vegetables, and salad, and topped off with some coffee and cake.


Coffee and cake

But I was surprised by the absence of vegetarian entrees. I myself am not vegetarian, but I know many people who are, or are almost-vegetarian, and I enjoy vegetarian options, so I am always sensitive to the variety of food options at events. Vegetarians at this lunch today had to make do by loading up on only simple salad and steamed vegetables.

Dean Lehoczky appears

Finally, after everyone was done eating, Dean Lehoczky appeared.

He explained that last night he had been working on some fancy speech for us, but then his wife had an accident and he took her to the hospital and they had some adventures there. After they finally returned home, he decided to scrap his plans for his speech.

Instead, he gave a little talk that is the only one of his that I expect to remember in the past decade of this annual event (I have no memory of what he even said last year, for example). It was hilarious, and it was just him telling a story highlighting the humor in all the situations that arose after the accident last night.

I guarantee you that I will never forget this story he told, as long as I live, it was so funny and personal. I will remember this story for decades. Up till this moment, John Lehoczky was to me just some guy I saw around at events. I don’t remember anything he might have said at any ceremonial speech I may have attended by him. But after yesterday, I saw a really funny guy who shared a personal story at his last staff appreciation lunch. The first thing when I got home from work was to tell Abby the story.

John Lehoczky


If you’re going to give a speech, why not make it unique and interesting, rather than formal and boilerplate? It worked, by accident, for John Lehoczky in his final moments as dean of the CMU Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

When you have to speak in public, how do you feel about your obligation? Do you fall back on some impersonal formula based on some template, since nobody really cares anyway? Or do you tell a story, and make it interesting? Do you care if anyone cares?

comments powered by Disqus