In 2004, Kurt Vonnegut gave the commencement address at Lehigh University. Even though I'm a fan of his work, especially his essays, I didn't go hear him speak. But I should have. Three years later, Vonnegut passed away.

In early April, The Morning Call reported that Helen Thomas was due to give the commencement address at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Knowing that she's in her late 80s, I immediately emailed the folks at PSLV to see if the event was open to the public - I wasn't about to miss another potentially great speaker.

Last Saturday, Penn State Lehigh Valley held its final commencement ceremony on the Fogelsville campus (they're moving the entire school to Center Valley this summer) and I was there to hear "the First Lady of the Press" speak.

After a very thorough introduction of her ground-breaking history in the journalism field, Thomas' first words were "It's hard to hear your obituary when you're not even dead," followed by a wave of laughter. She then proceeded to give the shortest commencement address I've ever heard (15 minutes, tops). Although spoken with a voice that showed her age, Thomas commanded my attention, discussing the changes in this country and the role the 84 graduates had in its future. 

Driving home from the ceremony, I realized not enough of us take advantage of the significant people who come to the region for speaking engagements. Whether it's a commencement ceremony, a lecture or a paid performance (like the legendary George Carlin, who I was lucky to see at the State Theatre before he passed away), I encourage you to take advantage of them while they're here.

Who's the most memorable person you've ever heard speak in Lehigh Valley, or beyond?