Selecting University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker at this year’s University-wide Commencement is a total failure to chose a speaker who will leave the senior class with fulfilling insight and positive lasting memories. Moreover, it is tantamount to a public relations suicide attempt.
The purpose of a keynote Commencement speaker is to provide an outside voice that gives students their final bit of enlightenment before leaving the world of academia. Higher education is often perceived as a pursuit of objective truth. Thus, an independent speaker can impart wisdom to students in what could be construed as their final class session.
GW administrators deserve nothing less than contempt from the students they purport to serve for ignoring this role of a keynote Commencement speaker. Trachtenberg is the ultimate GW insider, having been at the helm for 19 years and having had more than his fair share of talk time. Regardless of the content of his remarks, it is unlikely that will bring an enlightening or worthwhile point to graduating students.
Including former city councilwoman Linda Cropp, the wife of a GW professor, is another failure to attract an independent voice to speak to students at Commencement. GW marketing often touts the University’s location in one of the top intellectual and cultural centers of this nation. Only laziness or sheer incompetence could have resulted in two main Commencement speakers being pulled from within the GW community.
Over the past 19 years, Trachtenberg attempted to transform GW into a world-renowned international institution of higher education by increasing fundraising and marketing GW as a premier academic institution. Shame on our president for taking part in an event that will run contrary to the goals that he has worked for over the past two decades. After all that work, his final legacy at GW will include the inability for his administration to secure a quality, internationally known Commencement speaker.
The lack of an outside perspective gives GW the appearance of a bottom-tier institution uninterested in academic discovery or the enrichment of students. At an event that receives coverage by local and national media, the Commencement speaker makes a strong statement about the nature of the University and its ability to attract high-profile movers and shakers from academia, politics, business, science or even entertainment. While he might disagree with such an assessment, Trachtenberg is none of these.
The implications for fundraising and alumni relations are perhaps most dire. A student body that has complained about four years of bureaucratic nonsense, high fees and other frustrations will perceive this speech as a final slap in the face before being called for a donation. Suffice to say, administrators should not be surprised if fundraising suffers from the class of 2007.
In an internal memo obtained by The Hatchet, a University spokesperson clearly speculates that there may be objection and protests among students in reaction to this decision. Shame on GW administrators for acknowledging that Trachtenberg’s position will infuriate people and continuing with this course of action anyway.
Typically, highly-charged articles within The Hatchet garner two or three letters to the editor. Within the two hours following the breaking news alert regarding the University’s decision, the paper has received more than five letters on the subject, with more on the way. Already, Facebook groups with the sole intent of protesting Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker have hundreds of members. While these measures are not an official gauge of student opinion, they are indicative of the overwhelming negative feeling among that student body toward this decision.
Students feel cheated. While many may not be keen enough to appreciate the importance of a speaker not connected to the University, all realize that Trachtenberg is a speaker at Commencement each year, and that this year students will merely be receiving one speaker for the price of two. Additionally, plenty of confused students may be wondering why they paid a $100 graduation fee for such a lackluster event.
During an interview with The Hatchet, Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations, equated Trachtenberg to the quality of past speakers such as George H.W. Bush and Andy Rooney. Either GW’s publicists are delusional, or they truly believe Trachtenberg will be an amazing orator. In any case, it appears as if the administration simply could not secure a better speaker and are attempting to spin Trachtenberg as a worthy replacement.
If administrators care about the University’s reputation, then they will reverse this decision within the next few weeks by working overtime to secure a speaker of substance. If, after exhausting all of their means, this is not a possibility, at the very least, administrators should drop the spin and just admit that they could not secure a more appropriate Commencement speaker. Trachtenberg could also show a bit more humility than he did during his interview with The Hatchet, in which he claimed that GW considered asking the Queen of England to speak.
From a real former president at last years’ Commencement speech to a soon-to-be former president of GW is not an admirable or appropriate transition for any University. Ultimately, administrators should prepare for a vocal response to this decision, which significantly diminishes students’ final experience at GW.