Choosing Marcia McNutt for Commencement speaker was a mistake

After months of speculating who the next Commencement speaker would be, the University finally made the announcement this week. But for most students, the reveal was an underwhelming one.

Marcia McNutt, who has served as the president of the National Academy of Sciences since 2016, will be giving the commencement speech in May – a choice that has attracted mixed reactions and condemnation from students. The criticism is unsurprising, as McNutt was not an appropriate choice for a commencement speaker at GW.

Although she is not a good fit to address the Class of 2018, that does not mean students should be putting down McNutt as an individual. It is important to recognize women leading in science, technology, engineering and math. McNutt is the first woman to serve as the president of NAS. This makes her the perfect choice to deliver the graduate commencement speech at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which she will also be delivering in May – but the same can’t be said for GW.

The University has long sustained a pattern of high-profile speakers for the ceremony on the National Mall. Previous speakers have included Apple CEO Tim Cook in 2015, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in 2016 and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. last year. GW is a university full of students with a variety of interests who study many different disciplines, but it is still known for fields like international affairs, political science and journalism. McNutt is not a public figure and clearly breaks away from this trend. Most students on campus didn’t even know her name before the announcement Tuesday.

Aside from McNutt not being the typical GW Commencement speaker, the selection process that she went though raises some concerns. Just last year, McNutt received an honorary degree from the University of Miami. Before University President Thomas LeBlanc came to GW, he served as University of Miami’s executive vice president and provost. This connection between LeBlanc and McNutt begs the question of whether or not our president played a large role in selecting McNutt for this honor. The selection of McNutt as the keynote speaker also comes at a time when administrators are emphasizing and evaluating the University’s role as a research institution. According to members of the student committee, McNutt was not on the list of suggested speakers. The fact that she wasn’t even considered by the committee, who normally looks at celebrities and politicians, undermines the idea of having a student committee at all.

At the end of the day, the Commencement speaker is not the most important part of graduation. It is the completion of a college career. But the University did not make a fitting choice for the Commencement speaker, and failed to reach the bar they have set in the past. If this trend of speakers, who students don’t have a say in, continues, then the University needs to stop advertising when former First Lady Michelle Obama was the speaker in 2010 or when actress and alumni Kerry Washington spoke in 2013. While graduates have their entire lives to look forward to after May 20, for many students, this is a disappointing way to leave GW.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Zach Slotkin.

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