Graduating seniors said they are upset that this year’s lineup of Commencement speakers excludes notable political figures, after the University announced a roster of seven speakers for the May 20 ceremony. Grammy Award-winner Tony Bennett and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk are among the honorary degree recipients who will speak.
The speakers will each give a short speech on the Ellipse, instead of one keynote address that usually takes place.
“The fact that we are in D.C. and were not able to get a politician for our graduation is absolutely ridiculous,” senior Brad Hopwell said. “D.C. is one of the main attractions to this school, and politics plays a major role in that.”
Students said the speakers relate better to their parents than the students who are graduating.
“It seems like they chose Tony Bennett as a speaker to make our parents happy,” senior Grace Herrle said. “He is a major name in the music industry for the generation above us, but he doesn’t fit into our lifestyle as well as someone much younger would.”
Senior Kristina Watson said she is more impressed with speakers who visited GW for events during the year than the ones lined up for Commencement.
“Parents seem to be thrilled with the panel of speakers, but a politician or an advocate for something our generation can relate to more would be a better choice, especially since we have had such great speakers at our school in the last couple of months,” Watson said. Recent speakers at the Media and public Affairs building include media personalities Larry King, Wolf Blitzer and Chris Matthews.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg disagreed with students, saying the lineup presents a well-rounded and outstanding group of academics and celebrities.
“We have a dynamite lineup for this year’s Commencement ceremony,” Trachtenberg said. “Most universities across the country would kill for a list of speakers like the ones we have gotten.”
Other speakers and degree recipients include Southeastern University President Charlene Drew Jarvis, D.C. Board of Trade President John R. Tydings, National Symphony Orchestra Director Leonard Slatkin, National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell and H.R. Shepard, inventor of the asthma inhaler.
Trachtenberg, University Marshal Jill Kasle, Director of Special Events Jim Hess, GW’s board of trustees and several faculty members made the decision to host a panel of speakers this year.
“President Trachtenberg brought up to the board over a year ago that because this year is an election year it would be impossible to predict who would be a good politician to have as a speaker,” Kasle said. “As a result of this, we decided to have speakers from a wide range of areas that are too often looked over.”
Kasle said students, faculty and members of the community begin nominating speakers a more than year before the actual ceremony. A long selection process occurs before invitations are sent out. It usually takes about 14 months to plan the ceremony, she said.
“The truth is that any one of us would be honored to have any of the
speakers over for dinner and to hear about their accomplishments,” Trachtenberg said. “To have such a large group of these honored people at one event is really a privilege.”
Trachtenberg said the speakers are representatives of many academic subjects.
“All of the speakers are selected on the basis that they symbolize accomplishments in a wide variety of fields,” Trachtenberg said.