The University announced Monday that storied civil rights activist and NAACP chairman Julian Bond will serve as this year’s keynote Commencement speaker on the National Mall. After considerable protests last spring due to the University’s decision to choose former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg as the keynote speaker, this page applauds administrators’ efforts to select a speaker from outside of the University walls who could add a perspective to this year’s exercises.
With Trachtenberg’s selection last spring, this page argued that students were denied exposure beyond that of the ultimate GW insider. Conversely, this year students will hear words from a civil rights leader who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and serves as president emeritus of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Although not a celebrity in the traditional sense, Bond brings valuable lessons to share with the GW community. Bond has experienced and shaped definitive moments of American history and continues to be a successful leader in our world.
As such, his résumé bolsters the idealism commencement speakers traditionally impart upon graduating students preparing to embark on their own journeys. Bond personifies an individual who has taken major risks in his life – we hopethat his successes will inspire the graduating class to do the same.
Of course, some of these risks will undoubtedly have consequences. Bond has captured headlines all over the country with his controversial comments regarding conservatives. But as any influential leader who openly addresses and challenges taboos across the nation, he is bound to be controversial. Hopefully, those who are unhappy with the University’s decision will voice their dissension in a respectful manner.
We hope that the Commencement stage does not serve as Bond’s personal pulpit. Instead, we look to him to use his knowledge as an example of what a person can achieve if they follow their inspiration and impart new perspectives on GW students. Graduating students and their families have been waiting years for this day. It is only fair to these students and their loved ones that the keynote address brings the class together.
When the graduates swarm the National Mall in May they will be leaving behind a year at GW characterized by racially and ethnically influenced controversies. If Bond effectively shares his experiences and wisdom with the next generation, he will be an important speaker who provides the outside perspective invaluable to this year’s graduates. While not without controversy, the administration’s decision took to heart criticisms regarding last year’s debacle and has secured a speaker who will expose students to life outside Foggy Bottom.