Staff editorial: Hitting a keynote

After two years of student grumbling about the University’s choice for Commencement speaker, GW administrators should make serious attempts to get student input about who sends them off into the real world.

The administration’s selection of Brown University President Ruth Simmons to keynote this year’s ceremony may be a positive image for students and a different type of speaker, as officials say, but it does not represent a choice by the students or one made in students’ best interest.

The administration withheld the identity of the speaker until relatively late in the game and shrouded it in unnecessary secrecy. Rumors of big names like Vice President Dick Cheney spread around campus, leading students to set high and unwarranted expectations. University officials claim they had Simmons in mind for months and could have hinted that those expecting a high-profile politician would be disappointed.

Overblown expectations contributed to students’ negative reaction to GW’s eventual announcement of Simmons. The administration should have been more up front with at least which type of personality they were expecting as a Commencement speaker, so students hoping for, say, Michael Jordan wouldn’t be let down quite so hard.

There is no doubt Simmons is qualified to be a keynote speaker. She has an outstanding resume and would be a perfect choice if the ceremony were for faculty members and administrators. Commencement is, however, for graduating seniors, and students want a speaker they can relate to or, at least, have heard of.

The selection is further disappointing considering the high-profile speakers that come to GW on a regular basis. GW drew big names like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who spoke at the Law School extension dedication, as well as White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and numerous other luminaries just this year. Students naturally assume the University will pull out all stops for Commencement and top its regularly scheduled fare for a milestone in students’ lives.

The administration’s selection of Simmons shows they are either out of touch with what students want in a Commencement speaker or they know and are unable to get those people. Either way, students need to be much more involved in the selection process.

As it stands, students can submit suggestions for speakers to the administration, but that is far from being enough. The process should be more democratic, where student leaders can help decide who actually gets selected to avoid making the last memory of seniors a disappointing one.

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