Letters to the Editor: GW weighs in on Commencement

Will not attend

It is extremely disappointing to hear that University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is this year’s Commencement speaker. Although I have the utmost respect for him, the University made a huge mistake in choosing him to give the keynote speech.

The problem with this decision is that Trachtenberg has a speaking role in Commencement to begin with. Family and friends travel across the country and world to attend graduation and hear a speech from a world-renowned figure. Most of us have been hearing Trachtenberg give speeches since he introduced us to the University four years ago as freshmen.

Indeed, President Trachtenberg is a great speaker and a highly respected man, but it is upsetting to know that I will not have the same Commencement experience as the previous two classes that were able to see the elder President Bush and his wife and Andy Rooney.

It will be interesting to see the decrease in attendance at this year’s Commencement – the school just lost one attendee.

-Maxwell Fine, Senior

No support for GW

When I heard the news that Trachtenberg was to be the keynote speaker at the Commencement of his own University, the University that I have dedicated the past four years of my life to, I was struck by the total disregard for the student body that the decision displayed.

My Commencement ceremony has been something that I, and no doubt countless other students, have looked forward to since the moment we received our acceptance letters. Now, I cannot muster any excitement for the prospect of attending what should be one of the proudest and most joyful moments of my life.

It is unfortunate that my final memory of GW will always be one of regret and profound disappointment. When I look back upon the time I have spent here, I will remember an administration that was detached, self-involved and utterly unconcerned with the thousands of students who have chosen to spend their college careers at GW.

I now know that I cannot continue to support an institution that allows events like these to take place, and an institution that proves to be less concerned with the education and guidance of young men and women than with its own self-gratification and increasing profit margins.

If, in the future, I am asked to support the University through monetary donation or by any other means, my conscience would dictate my answer: absolutely not. If I am asked whether I believe a student at GW can obtain a quality education and be treated with respect, dignity and honesty, my answer will remain: absolutely not.

-Kelly Fehrenbach, Senior

No surprise

The news that Trachtenberg would be headlining Commencement came as no big shock to anyone who has followed his year-long publicity tour. It has come as a disappointment, however.

President Trachtenberg has done many good things for this University over the years. Unfortunately, he knows this and has decided that he is going to let everyone know what a great person he is. From his year-long world tour to the recent announcement of his upcoming speech, it appears that Trachtenberg’s greatest accomplishment this year was perhaps stepping down.

-Robert Swan, Senior

Support SJT

I never thought I would let up on my periodic rants about the plight of adjunct faculty to defend President Trachtenberg, but here goes.

I hold a Ph.D. from Georgetown University in Chinese linguistics and have been a researcher and professor at GW for approximately as long as President Trachtenberg has been at the helm. I have seen GW grow from a commuter school to a University we can be proud of (I remember when the commuter study lounge was one of the most popular places on campus). I am always amazed, therefore, when I hear students nowadays expressing feelings of inferiority that they didn’t make the cut at Georgetown and are consigned to the east side of the park, since I regard the two schools as basically equivalent in terms of academic quality.

In fact, many prefer GW’s higher energy level and open-minded approach. I attribute GW’s slightly lower ratings to two things: a spending spree on glitzy buildings instead of academic salaries and a basic lack of confidence.

In the current debate over whether Trachtenberg should give the Commencement address before he retires this year, I see a psychic corollary to this situation. Why should we chase after glitzy, expensive superstars like Bill Cosby when we have important talent in our midst? Have some confidence, GW, and support one of your own.

-Molly Spitzer Frost, Associate professor of East Asian languages

Choose someone else

During the weeks and months of anticipation of the announcement of the 2007 keynote speaker, rumors started flying. Of all the rumors I heard, the one I continued to dismiss as the most absurd was that President Trachtenberg would deliver the headlining address. While I have always recognized SJT as egotistical, I continued to believe that the line stopped at respect for the students. Last week, he proved me wrong.

In a recent Washington Post article, our president said he has written the opening lines of his speech: “I could have gotten you a more famous speaker – but nobody who loved you more.”

We don’t want someone famous just for the sake of celebrity; we want inspiration. We have been listening to Trachtenberg speak since our first steps on campus four years ago at Colonial Inauguration. We want someone who can offer us something new and share their world experiences with us and send us off with words of wisdom, courage and insight. Give us someone to motivate us, not someone who will use Commencement as a way to stroke his own ego.

Even though we are the most expensive University in country, we pay these hefty fees in part because of the high caliber of speakers we expect to address us at Commencement. These costs are part of the “high-calorie diet” the GW administration needs to cut back on, not the high-quality speaker. If they expect to see any alumni donation from the class of 2007, the administration must choose a new keynote speaker.

-Sarah Fink, Senior

SJT retirement party

This year, as I planned to depart GW, I was excited to attend Commencement ceremonies.

Following the recent announcement that the headliner would be our outgoing president, however, I and many of my fellow classmates are disheartened and offended. To his credit, President Trachtenberg has done many great things for GW, including the establishment of our school as one of the country’s premier institutions of higher learning.

I, like many of my other classmates, am disappointed and angered by the University’s decision to have its own president headline Commencement. The senior class is upset that President Trachtenberg is using our entire Commencement ceremony to congratulate himself in his typically grandiloquent manner.

Many agree that his speech will steal our spotlight, hijacking our Commencement for his retirement extravaganza. It’s not too late for the University to find someone else, however. Within this city there are 535 members of Congress, more than a dozen Cabinet secretaries, nine Supreme Court justices and countless other political figures.

I am shocked and appalled that my own University president is the best choice. This is our graduation, not his retirement party.

-Bryce Pardo, Senior

Like high school graduation

I was extremely disappointed to hear that President Tractenberg has chosen to make the 2007 GW Commencement about himself. Part of the fun of going to a college graduation is to hear from an outside, well-recognized figure.

GW has attracted some great ones in the past. This year’s graduation will feel like a high school graduation, where the principal gets up to speak. I’m afraid this decision is going to backfire and turn the celebration into a weekend of discord.

-Mary-Ellen Mullen, Parent

Get over yourselves

The shortened version of this letter would simply read “get over yourselves,” but as an English major I can’t stick to such brevity. As a senior, I also can’t help but try and defend all of our best interests.

It’s really amazing how many seniors feel entitled to a “better” graduation speaker, simply because they pay a certain amount of money to come here or because their parents are coming in from out of state. I don’t know about you, but my parents are coming to see me graduate because, well, I’m their daughter, not because of the fame that my school can boast, or because of a speaker that they can tell all their friends about.

Yes, I’ve never met Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, so I don’t feel a real connection to him. I’ve also never met George and Barbara Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Andy Rooney or Madeleine Albright, so I don’t see the problem here. They all know how to write a speech, and they all know what it’s like to graduate from college.

We’re all going to graduate, “impressive” speaker or not. You will get your diploma. You will get a job. If you’re basing your memories of GW on the formalities of the graduation ceremony, you’ve come to college with the wrong idea.

Enjoy spending time with your best friends in the dorm for one last weekend. Enjoy showing your parents around D.C. for one last time. Don’t waste your energy and our time turning your back and booing. You’re just going to look silly and ruin the day for everyone. So, getting back to my original point: get over yourselves.

-Lauren Stash, Senior


As a GW alumnus, I was amazed but not surprised at President Trachtenberg being named headline speaker for Commencement. It all makes sense when you consider that it is his money machine, also sometimes referred to as a University.

Commencement, like most things at GW, is not about the students. In all reality, however, you can’t fault GW for the decision. Eating leftovers is always easier than ordering out. What better way for a president to go out than to throw himself a large retirement party on the National Mall at the students’ expense?

-Scott Ruplinger, Alumnus

Not the same

Unfortunately, President Trachtenberg’s comments, especially the one in which he equated graduation to a funeral in Thursday’s Hatchet, seem to reaffirm his misconception that Commencement 2007 is a retirement celebration and not a celebration of the achievements of GW’s graduating students.

It is disappointing to know that students’ accomplishments have been ignored and pushed aside in an apparent effort to highlight only those accomplishments of our president. We deserve a commencement centered around us just as much as Trachtenberg deserves an acknowledgment of what he’s done for the University during his time here.

Let’s not forget that Trachtenberg’s retirement and the class of 2007’s graduation are not one and the same, and one needs to stop taking precedence over the other.

-Kara McGinnis, Senior

Skipping Commencement

The moment that I have waited four years for as a parent of a graduating senior has finally come: Commencement 2007. As previous graduating classes have come and gone, I waited anxiously for the announcements of the prominent keynote speakers – Andy Rooney, George and Barbara Bush, etc. Would the speaker to the class of 2007 be a foreign diplomat? A political figure? An ambassador for a world peace?

When the official announcement came that Trachtenberg would headline the event, I was surprised but also somewhat amused. The ticket price to see these students graduate is enormous – essentially thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

I feel as I have purchased an expensive seat to a show at which the headline act canceled at the last minute. Although Trachtenberg has many achievements to show for during his tenure at GW, I feel somewhat miffed. So while the class of 2007 gathers for a final farewell on the National Mall in May, I think my family may do brunch instead.

-Robin B. Lawrence, Parent

Offensive comments

As a graduating senior, I found Trachtenberg’s comment on the keynote speaker selection extremely offensive. To compare my Commencement, the graduation of my peers and friends, to a diet is disrespectful and demeaning.

To suggest that the individuals graduating from GW this year are somehow less deserving than other classes of a slice of this “high-calorie” pie is belittling. I don’t want to go on a diet! I have worked very hard and am very proud of my accomplishments after four years here at GW. I want a big, fat chocolate cake for my graduation and I know that I deserve it.

-Katie Kuhl, Senior

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