Unpack!

George Plimpton's contrarian Class Day manifesto of 1977

In 1977, when Harvard's senior class chose George Plimpton ’48 as its Class Day speaker, they knew what they were getting into—or so they thought. Plimpton, the longtime editor of the Paris Review and a Harvard Lampoon stalwart as an undergraduate, had made a national name for himself through his polished writing for Sports Illustrated and other media, including several books, for his puckish sense of humor, and for his niche as a "professional amateur"—a man who would try stunts like taking snaps as a Detroit Lions quarterback and then recount the experience in Paper Lion.  But no one anticipated Plimpton's memorable speech that hilariously turned normal Commencement rhetoric on its head. Instead of encouraging the seniors to go forth and conquer the world, Plimpton advised the graduating class to turn on their heels, return to their rooms, and "Unpack!"—a refrain he cried out repeatedly during his hortatory address. "There's not much out here," Plimpton declared, adding, "We don't want you. We are frightened of you descending on us in such numbers."

For more on Plimpton's speech, see this PDF from the July-August 1977 issue.

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