While the GW student body often shows fleeting interest in controversial issues on campus, the announcement of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker at Commencement has continued to draw student ire.
The announcement of additional degree-receiving speakers, including CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, will provide more diverse voices at Commencement. Still, members of the graduating class have reason for discontent. These students should be mindful, however, of the appropriate methods for protesting the decision.
Blitzer, and the handful of other accomplished professionals who will address graduates on the National Mall, represent a diverse field of experts who will be able to impart wisdom on GW students. These degree recipients also presumably went through the tedious consideration process required for this honor.
Nonetheless, the naming of additional speakers does not let GW administrators off the hook for selecting our University president, a GW insider who has addressed students on countless occasions in the past, as the person to deliver the keynote address. The fact remains that this speech, above any other Commencement, should be delivered by an independent voice who can impart a unique perspective to the graduating class.
Though the addition of Blitzer is an improvement, his selection still shows little effort on the part of the administration, given Blitzer’s well-known friendships with top administrators and frequent attendance at GW basketball games.
Despite the recent announcement of additional speakers, students may still be upset about Trachtenberg headlining the ceremony, and they have justification for this stance. Upset soon-to-be graduates should ensure that they voice their complaints through the appropriate channels, however.
Recent incidents of vandalism pertaining to the Commencement announcement, including the defacing of posters of Trachtenberg through the use of swastikas, are wholly unacceptable. Furthermore, students who have directed their and their parents’ complaints to anyone who works for the University are also wasting their time and energy. In the end, such actions just give credence to those who see protesters as a group of selfish college students who have little justification to be upset.
Staff in GW’s Media Relations department, which deals with sharing information with the public, and University Events, which is involved with the logistical planning of Commencement, are not the appropriate targets for phone calls, letters and e-mails. Instead, concerns over Commencement should be shared with those involved with the decision and top leadership who can effectively relay student concerns. Examples of such administrators include Rodney Johnson, director of Parent Services, and Jill Kasle, University marshal.
In the end, the key decision-maker regarding Commencement is Trachtenberg himself, and students may be best-off aiming their concerns at him. Unfortunately, based on our president’s callous comments in the Washington Post ignoring the large number of students upset over the decision, he may also be the person who is least likely to listen.
The president’s residence hall tour Tuesday would likely be the best venue for upset students to calmly voice their concerns over the decision. If soon-to-be graduates are truly interested in making their voices heard, these in-person sessions with Trachtenberg are, perhaps, the last chance to get the message across that students are upset with the decision.
While it is highly unlikely that the decision placing Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker will be overturned, students who are still interested in protesting should do so through well-reasoned, non-vulgar and non-threatening arguments as opposed to mindless whining. Use of the appropriate channels for protest ensures that the graduating class will not be selfish, spoiled or unjustified in its complaints.