Staff Editorial: It’s time to enjoy Commencement

Commencement is a time for celebrating accomplishments, enjoying family and friends and looking to the future. Yet this year’s GW Commencement ceremony has turned into a controversial and polarizing event with the initial announcement, and then eventual change, of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker. With the ceremony only days away, it is time for students to enjoy a defining moment of their lives instead of continuing with protests bordering on disrespectful.

This page acknowledges, and has said so in the past, that the decision to have Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker was flawed from the beginning. Many have heard Trachtenberg speak in their four years at GW and feel that he cannot offer insights from outside of the University experience. Other attempts at recruiting “big name” speakers were not successful to the chagrin of many seniors. Furthermore, comments made in The Hatchet by Trachtenberg were callous to the clamoring of GW students.

But the fact is, there is nothing that can be changed now. Instead, most graduates have wisely focused their energies on enjoying the day in the company of their family and friends.

Students and guests should remember that this is Trachtenberg’s last Commencement as well. The outgoing leader ought to be treated with the respect afforded to a president who has made monumental advancements for GW including new buildings, programs and making the school a player on the national stage.

Trachtenberg has changed the face of GW in his 19-year term, a fact that probably accounts for many of the graduates of 2007 attending this University to begin with. It is unlikely Trachtenberg’s legacy will be tainted by this move and GW students’ Commencement experiences don’t have to be.

The choice remains with each graduate as to what his or her Commencement experience and memories will be. Perhaps a friend will not attend the ceremony or one will physically protest during Trachtenberg’s remarks, but these actions will not be hurting Trachtenberg – they will be polluting the ceremony for somebody else, be it a graduate, family member or friend.

Whether explicitly acknowledged by University officials or not, students’ voices on the matter have been heard loud and clear. Numerous Facebook groups have emerged with more than a thousand members, with some planning to physically turn their backs on Trachtenberg. However, an announcement came later in April that Trachtenberg would not remain the keynote speaker; instead all of the speakers at the ceremony would be allotted equal times. Although perhaps the reasons for the move remain unclear, the bottom line is that this change happened. Further protests will not accomplish anything beyond this point and will stain the lead-up to Commencement 2007 even more.

It seems ironic that most students acknowledge the advancements at GW credited to Trachtenberg but do not seem to believe he has anything of value to say to the class of 2007. Just because his name hasn’t appeared on billboards or ballots does not mean he does not have access to advice and truths for these accomplished graduates.

The unhappiness over this entire debacle has been felt by the senior class (and other students as well) and rightfully so. Initial protests and complaints were not only understandable, but expected. As of now, however, it is too late for anything concerning the ceremony to change. It is time for graduates and their guests to celebrate graduation day and not harp on University politics.

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