Commerce chief mangled words in school address, listeners say
Some students and parents at Pasadena's Polytechnic School were puzzled by U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson's commencement speech last week, confused by the mistakes and lapses that trickled through the polished public speaker's remarks.
Bryson returned to the school, the alma mater of his four daughters, to address 91 graduating seniors and more than 1,000 guests Thursday, school officials said.
Several people in attendance told The Times the 68-year-old former head of Edison International repeated himself and rambled at times. One parent said he mangled words and did not appear to notice.
"It definitely seemed as though he lost his place at times — that he wasn't sure what he was saying," said Brad Olson, 18, a graduate who will attend Southern Methodist University in the fall.
Some parents ascribed it to nerves. Some students concluded it was just a middling graduation speech. But now, said Connor McKnight, another 18-year-old graduate who is headed to Harvard, "it all makes sense, with everything that unfolded over the weekend."
Commerce Department spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said Bryson had suffered a seizure and was hospitalized overnight for observation. A Commerce Department official said Bryson had never had a seizure before and had "limited recall of the events."
Later Monday, the White House announced Bryson would be taking an immediate medical leave of absence as "he undergoes tests and evaluations." The Commerce Department released a memo from Bryson to Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, who will serve in his absence.
"I notified President Obama this evening that effective immediately I am taking a medical leave of absence so that I can focus all of my attention on resolving the health issues that arose over the weekend," Bryson wrote in the memo.
An investigation into the crash is ongoing.
— Scott Gold, Andrew Blankstein and Kate Mather
Photo: U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson delivers a speech at the 2012 commencement ceremony for Pasadena's Polytechnic School. Bryson's four daughters graduated from the school, and he and his wife previously served on the board of trustees. Credit: Walt Mancini/Associated Press