University President Steven Knapp announced the creation of a Commencement speaker advisory committee last week in an effort to bring transparency to the search process for the annual keynote speaker.
Both the selection of NAACP Chairman Julian Bond as keynote speaker this year and former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg last year, drew criticism from students upset about the picks.
“You always have people willing to speak out about what they feel passionately about, and that is what we want,” said Peter Konwerski, assistant vice president for student and academic support services.
The seven-person advisory committee includes students, professors and administrators. In the past, the Commencement speaker was generally chosen from a list of honorary degree nominees.
Anyone could nominate someone for an honorary degree, but Konwerski said this was not well-publicized. The new advisory committee will solicit nominations from students, faculty and staff and give recommendations to Knapp and the Board of Trustees, who will then make the final decision.
This year, conservative students and others who were concerned with about Bond arranged meetings with University administrators, Konwerski said. He said the problems that surfaced during the meetings were relayed to Knapp, which prompted the formation of the committee.
“All of us will be looking for someone who is inspirational for our graduation students,” said Beth Nolan, chair of the committee. She said the speaker should also exhibit GW’s values.
Junior Nicole Capp, last year’s Student Association president, spoke with several administrators about getting student input in the process.
“Each year someone is going to have something to say about the speaker being chosen for Commencement,” Capp said. “I think Knapp realizes that it would be in our best benefit to increase transparency and improve the overall process.”
Alex Haimann, a senior who led the effort against Julian Bond, met with Knapp to explain his frustration.
“Knapp asked me, ‘What if we put students on a committee and they still were to choose Julian Bond as our speaker?’ and I said, ‘Yes I would have been upset, but I would have been less upset because at least there would have been a student voice,'” Haimann said.
“If my effort in any sort of way created a positive momentum to have student input on graduation speakers on years to come then I am thrilled,” he added. “It was worthwhile.”