Trachtenberg protests lose momentum as Commencement nears

Some graduating seniors are still disappointed with GW’s decision to make outgoing University President Steven Joel Trachtenberg the Commencement speaker. But while cries for protests and walk-outs found their way into the national media last month, students appear to have dropped their plans.

“I am not planning to show any respectful or disrespectful gestures towards SJT,” said senior Katherine Kuhn, creator of the Facebook group “COMMENCEMENT 2007: SJT better NOT be our keynote speaker!”

“I am going to pretend like he left a long time ago and he isn’t at our Commencement,” Kuhn said. “I am not proud to say I am a Colonial.”

Some seniors have made Commencement attendance a low priority as an act of protest toward the University’s response to the issue.

“I am not planning on attending,” senior Bryce Pardo said. “If I have some free time I might show up. I am still upset at how the University, especially SJT, handled the issue.”

Many students approve of Trachtenberg’s decision to step down as keynote speaker, but strongly disapprove of the way he used the Virginia Tech tragedy as justification for his decision. Trachtenberg wrote in a campus-wide e-mail that he chose to step down in light of the April shootings.

“It was an illogical connection,” said Sarah Fink, a senior. “SJT should have recognized student protests to his decision to be the keynote speaker … In no way does the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech relate to the keynote speaker at GW.”

In place of a keynote speaker, the University announced that each of the five honorary degree recipients would deliver a four- to five-minute speech. Trachtenberg will deliver a charge to the graduates.

University officials said finding a new speaker in such a short period of time would be impossible, but some students vigorously asserted the opposite.

Senior Robert Testa, who started the Facebook group “Stephen Colbert: 2007 Keynote Commencement Speaker,” claimed that several companies who represent notable speakers were available to speak on short notice.

“I attempted to organize a group of individuals to drive to New York City to wait in the standby line for the Colbert Report and share our story with fellow fans, but there was not enough interest at the time,” Testa said. “I truly believe that if students pushed hard enough, Colbert would come to GW.”

Other seniors have moved on and have no interest in protesting or skipping the ceremony.

“While I was annoyed by the fact that he was the keynote, I would not miss my college graduation because of it. Commencement is a once in a lifetime experience,” senior Robert Swan said.

Despite the complaints and indignation that Commencement has garnered already, some students believe the day will be a joyous one.

“We will have five great speakers in attendance on May 18, and my family and I will be in attendance at Commencement for a day of great celebration,” said Maxwell Fine, a senior majoring in economics and geography.

Other seniors have decided to attend the ceremony out of respect for Trachtenberg.

“I do not approve of being rude,” said Lauren Knight, a senior. “After all, despite complaints, he did accomplish much for this school and us as students.”

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