On Sunday, tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall for a Commencement ceremony in the shadows of the Washington Monument and Capitol of the United States. Yet for this special ceremony acknowledging the hard work of thousands of students, there was no keynote speaker. Indeed this lack of a keynote speaker not only will leave a lasting mark of the controversy surrounding this years’ ceremony but also a hole in the memories of the graduates.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg removed himself as the keynote speaker in April after much outcry from the senior class and cited the tragedy at Virginia Tech as a call for unity on campus. While Trachtenberg, as in most cases, was an interesting and engaging speaker on Sunday morning, there was no overarching, defining speech that graduates had waited four years to hear. This decision, not anticipated by University officials or students, breaks a storied GW tradition of respected and renowned keynote speakers valued by members of the university community.
Instead, Trachtenberg and the honorary degree recipients spoke for the same allotted number of minutes. Trachtenberg even joked on the matter as he unrolled a scroll, claiming it was his keynote address, at the beginning of his speech. While his joking may have lightened the mood, students should clamor for action in the future.
University officials should not be so guarded surrounding the decision of a keynote speaker and instead welcome student ideas and feedback. Students are most likely to pnsuresent a wide-range of ideal keynote speakers (and not just politicians, either) that will not only build and maintain excitement for the ceremony, but also enable graduates to leave their own stamp on this significant moment of their educational careers.
As this page has already stated, a keynote speaker should be able to offer an outside view point on issues and wisdom – what better way to ere such a speaker than to ask the graduates themselves.