After a great deal of waiting, the University finally announced that actress and alumna Kerry Washington will speak at Commencement this spring.
But despite her connection to GW and her resume, which includes films like “Django Unchained,” “Ray” and “The Last King of Scotland,” some students were disappointed.
It’s easy to understand their frustration since, in the past several years, the speakers have included high profile names like first lady Michelle Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams.
And that disappointment was compounded by the list of people nominated earlier this year to potentially receive honorary degrees, like actress Meryl Streep, basketball star Magic Johnson and Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.
As a student body, it’s very easy to think of the graduation speaker as someone who students and parents can brag about to their friends and family. With Oprah Winfrey speaking at Harvard University and the Dalai Lama at Tulane Unversity this year, students at GW wish that they, too, could boast a big name celebrity on their campus.
Many see the keynote as responsible for bringing an element of prestige to the University and producing a sound bite for CNN.
But we should focus on the actual content of the speech – not who is speaking. Washington is a rising star, and despite her youth, she will likely have a great deal of advice and wisdom to offer the Class of 2013.
In recent years, GW has fallen into a cycle of choosing politicos and members of the media as speakers, who frequently speak to large crowds. Perhaps Washington’s speech will be a breath of fresh air, a departure from the typical recycled Commencement speech.
At a school that prides itself on political science, international affairs and journalism programs, and that has poured millions of dollars into a new Science and Engineering Hall, the arts and humanities programs often go overlooked. But the decision to invite Washington is an indication of the University’s commitment to these programs.
Washington has spoken at GW before: She delivered a speech in the Marvin Center during Alumni Weekend in 2008. Additionally, she had a high-profile speaking gig at the Democratic National Convention in September. But there’s a number of reasons why students should look forward to hearing her speak.
Her activism in areas such as sustainability and LGBT rights will appeal to a large portion of the student body at this progressive school.
As a former member of the Board of Trustees and an alumna, she has the ability to speak to the student experience at GW in ways that others couldn’t.
As students, we’ve bought into the notion of superficiality. It’s true: Washington isn’t as famous as some of the other honorary degree candidates like Streep or Cantor.
And while she probably was not anybody’s first choice for Commencement speaker, Washington’s upcoming speech is something every graduate should look forward to.