Staff Editorial: A different tone at commencement

GW has been blessed with having premier politicians send off graduating Colonials over the past few years.

Against the backdrop of the Capitol Building on the National Mall, the University’s history of political leaders addressing graduates has been a meaningful tradition. But just as these speeches have brought famous figures to address graduates, they have also brought political grandstanding and free publicity for the person behind the podium.

As it trims its list of speakers down from 50 to 1, the University should prioritize having a speaker who will encourage, engage, motivate and inspire the graduates of the Class of 2012, even if his or her name isn’t making headlines or topping political totem poles.

At the end of the day, the speaker matters a great deal, but not more than the speech he or she delivers.

Commencement is a final hurrah for graduates. It’s a time to give the graduates and their well-wishers inspiration and a triumphant farewell.

There’s no doubt that political speakers and diplomats can connect with the graduates and inspire them. But historically, political speakers have not brought forth the graduate focus that a commencement speech requires.

Last year, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg connected with his audience by talking about community staples, such as Manouch and McFadden’s Bar. But he also spent several minutes speaking about his career accomplishments and advocacy.

There’s no way for the University committee vetting potential speakers to be certain that the chosen speaker won’t spend the entire time talking about him or herself. But speakers who might be off the beaten path and have a history of insightful and engaging speeches may have a greater chance of centering the speech on GW and its graduates.

It’s nearly impossible to find someone whom everyone agrees upon for commencement. And with GW’s penchant for politics, figureheads from the field make a lot of sense on paper. But they don’t always make the best toastmasters in practice.

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