Certainly to the delight of many angry students, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is no longer the keynote speaker at Commencement. As he steps down from the graduation spotlight, however, no one individual will step up to replace him.
The decision to relegate Trachtenberg to his normal function at Commencement – the charge to the students – is an improvement over the original plan to have him deliver the keynote address. In addition, lengthening the speeches of the honorary degree recipients will enhance the variety of outside messages graduates hear as they move on to the next stage of their lives. However, these changes do not excuse the administration and the Board of Trustees for failing to secure a Commencement speaker that evokes the international quality of GW, and it definitely does not excuse Trachtenberg’s overly callous commentary and disregard for student concerns.
One could reasonably compare a famous commencement speaker to the immaculate residence halls that Trachtenberg is so proud of building. Both are ultimately superfluous to the experience of higher education, yet students still want them, and the public at large still judges universities based on such superficial aspects. That’s why it is so surprising that Trachtenberg himself does not show more disappointment in the inability to get a “big name” for Commencement – he, of all people, focuses on the things that make a University appear great in the hopes that it will attract the faculty and students which do truly make it great.
At this point, it’s almost an impossibility for the University to secure a keynote speaker that will satisfy the students who were initially disgusted at Trachtenberg’s selection. University administrators did respond to student criticism, and now it is incumbent upon students to either accept that or continue to voice their concerns in a reasonable manner. Petty actions such as boycotting Commencement ceremonies or turning around during Trachtenberg’s address will only serve to degrade the quality of the ceremonies for the parents, friends and family members who traveled a great distance to enjoy their loved ones’ final exit from GW.