Letters to the Editor

Let Trachtenberg speak

I read with concern your editorial and related coverage regarding the choice of President Trachtenberg for GW’s Commencement 2007 keynote speaker (“Shame on you, GW administrators,” Apr. 12, p. 4). It is my belief that the negative reaction by some graduating seniors to SJT headlining Commencement is totally misplaced, but I know where it is coming from.

It’s so easy to view your time at GW through the lens of a four-year lifetime, or five-year as was my case (not that there is anything wrong with that). The sun rises and sets on campus. If you’re anything like me when I got to GW, I brimmed with youthful rage against authority. It’s likely the reason why I ran for SA president at all. The easiest target was the University administration and its president.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is sometimes an easy and convenient target. Construction too heavy around campus? Food options too slim at J Street? Strange smell coming from the Marvin Center fourth floor? The president is the man to blame. I laid the blame at his doorstep many a time. But, as we all know in our hearts, the truth of the matter is really quite different.

I didn’t leave GW happy. I had a difficult time here during the course of my two senior years. It was during that period and after that I came to know SJT. He never turned his back, always welcomed me with open arms, and he was compassionate when I least expected it. I understand that many of you have not had the opportunity to get to know President Trachtenberg in this way, so you’ll have to take my word for it and I hope you do.

I also hope those who have expressed disappointment and outrage over the choice of President Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker, would ask themselves the following questions:

Is the canned, 10-minute speech of some hollow celebrity who cares nothing for you or for our University more important than the man who spent the last two decades building GW? Is your Commencement going to be ruined by the guy who has been in there fighting for you and GW just because he’s familiar?

We are one of the greatest universities on the planet. It’s a nice way of thinking about the old alma mater, don’t you think? It’s an even nicer thing when you apply for a job with a GW degree. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has played a monumental role in making that so. He is good, kind, honest and decent servant who has dedicated 20 years of his life to GW, to mention nothing of his credentials. He is a guy who cares for, and I dare say loves, each and every one of us, even though he may not know us all. So, I would urge you: let the man speak.

-Philip Hoyt Meisner, Former Student Association President

What does it take?

I am appalled to hear that President Trachtenberg “hasn’t personally heard any complaints and thinks that student reaction has been positive” to the announcement that he will be the keynote speaker at Commencement (“Students administrators class over SJT,” Apr. 16, p. 1). I can only assume this means that he has been out of touch with the true student response?

Why don’t the school administrators and officials forward some of the angry e-mails they are receiving directly to him, so he can be more accurately informed? There are 910 of us (as of 11:15 a.m. Monday morning) who are against having President Trachtenberg as our keynote speaker (as noted by membership in the Facebook group “GW Students Against Trachtenberg as the Keynote Commencement Speaker).

How many do we need to be before we are heard? How many before our opinions are deemed important?

-Jessica Rutstein, Senior

Give SJT speech a chance

Your editorial last week protesting President Trachtenberg as the keynote Commencement speaker was more amusing than thoughtful.

I read the list of previous “outside” Commencement speakers that you seem infatuated with: former President George H.W. Bush; former Secretary of State Madeline Albright; entertainer Bill Cosby; television humorist Andy Rooney, etc. With all deference to these luminaries, has any of them given a fraction of the thought and energy to higher education and preparing college students for life that President Trachtenberg has? I know that none of them led GW from being a local commuter school to a top-ranked private university.

Trachtenberg’s writings, speeches and leadership in higher education are why he is such a sought-after speaker, including at other colleges’ commencement ceremonies. All of which goes to prove the adage that a prophet, while alive, is often listened to more abroad than at home.

The students, parents and faculty at GW would do well to prove that adage wrong at this May’s Commencement.

-John R. Miller, Research Professor in International Studies, Elliott School of International Affairs

Enjoy Commencement, avoid pettiness

As a graduate of GW and a former foil of President Trachtenberg, I have been consistently amused at the truly childish behavior exhibited by the GW student body regarding his Commencement address.

SJT is actually an incredibly interesting man, and I learned just as much from him personally as I did from any other person on campus in my four years at GW. When I graduated I had a well-known speaker, but truthfully I don’t remember much of what was said. The question I would ask the graduating class is: after four (or more) years, do you really want to be lectured one more time?

The bottom line is this, if you’re really so petty as to skip your own graduation – that you, your family and probably several institutions have bled, sweated and paid for – because you don’t like the speaker, then you don’t deserve to graduate anyway, and I’m glad you won’t have the same experience I did because you don’t deserve it.

Commencement isn’t about the speaker, it’s about the event, and if you’re so petty that you will deny yourself and your family the experience of celebrating in your lifelong achievement of graduation, then shame on you – you never really learned anything here at all.

-Trygve Olsen, Alumnus

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