April 28, 2004

Commencement. Who Needs It?

Ah, May. Spring in full flower, students finishing up the course work, and campuses girding their loins for the annual commencement speaker kerfuffles. Every year administrators anxious to wow parents with their institution's "pull," invite celebrities or political bigwigs to spend 30 minutes or so offering insight and relevant exhortations to a bunch of hyperexcited (and here in the South), sweaty matriculatees. And every year, some administrators screw the pooch with speaker choices that are inappropriate or downright bizarre, sparking controvery, protests, and even walkouts from graduates DURING commencement.

So let's do a little roundup of this year's Speakers Most Likely to End Up on the Evening News:

At Emory, the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, will be speaking. I wonder what she'll speak about? Anti-semitism? Some folks at Emory seem to think she should.

Villanova attempts to avoid controversy altogether by inviting Big Bird to speak. It doesn't work. Who doesn't like Big Bird, you may ask? These people. And your humble correspondent, but since I don't attend Villanova the point is moot.

Oh, and in a strategy guaranteed to make commencement memorable, UCLA proposed Laura Bush as speaker. Predictable kerfuffle followed announcement. As an interesting aside, the First Lady will be speaking at Miami-Dade College's commencement.

Granted, most schools tend to go for the staid, credentialed speaker, so it's not like every year turns into some nationwide graduation freakout. Still, you've got to wonder what went through an administrator's head when, for example, she chose Phil Donahue to speak at a pretty conservative college's commencement. You've also gotta wonder what went through Donahue's head when he decided that the speech should be all politics all the time. Helloooo? Graduation? Not about your politics, dude.

Of course, it doesn't help that we seem to be turning out entire legions of students whose delicate constitutions are overwhelmed by the merest whiff of an ideology that differs from theirs, and who believe that anyone espousing said different ideas must be stopped, or protested, or univited, or what the hell ever and proceed to turn commencement into a temper tantrum.

Maybe we should screw the message, shoot the messenger and just mail these kids their damn pieces of paper. It would save time and trouble, and we'd all be spared the annual parade of professorial funny hats. And I think everyone can get behind the "no more goofy headgear" sentiment.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at April 28, 2004 10:20 AM

stupid bruins. they could have had one of the most influential people in America, and their anti-Bush screed gets in the way. how can they be learning anything, other than the politics of squeeky-wheel power plays? let's hear it for hollow victory.

you can bet if that first lady's name was hillary, they'd have done backflips for days. cause, of course, she knows so much about education, being a lawyer and politico and all.

when I get my grad degree, I hope to do it from the deck of a cruise ship, where people are interesting and civil and I can celebrate my achievement, not the final triumph of two-bit student ideologues. cheers!

Posted by: tee bee at April 28, 2004 11:09 AM

and for the love of God, why do Southern colleges insist on outdoor spring graduations? Especially with what promises (at my school) to be a long-winded speaker.

I pray for rain every year; usually it's sunny and 98*. And I am in black regalia, usually with a dress and hose on underneath so I look decent for the obligatory "reception" afterwards.

if I faint walking back in the "Recessional", it will be upon their heads.

Posted by: ricki at April 28, 2004 12:53 PM

Then there's this.

I used to think it was weird to keep Galileo's middle finger on display in a Florence museum. Now? Not so much.

Posted by: Lex at April 28, 2004 01:00 PM

I don't get the Galileo reference, but clearly St. Francis isn't very good at selecting speakers, either. or at least at vetting them. okay not to choose Snyderman if she really stands for things you can't support. mission drift should be more seriously considered at the academic level, but don't get me started on that.

but I think it would be perfectly acceptable to have her speak, if she is not actively promoting an untenable agenda; which it appears she is not. so private opinions aside, St. Francis should have stuck to its guns in having her.

yeah, we need to revamp this graduation thing. stupid outfits, boring lectures, impossible to please all branches of the audience, the money-money-and-more-money spent on the whole thing, phooey. I say we all head to the caribbean or some other sunny place. and heck, why wait 'til graduation?

Posted by: tee bee at April 28, 2004 01:33 PM

But I like the stupid hats

Posted by: Ted K at April 28, 2004 02:06 PM

wait a minute... middle finger, eh? maybe someone had the last laugh after all.

Posted by: tee bee at April 28, 2004 02:27 PM

Well, it's kind of a normal challenge at Emory -- prove you're not anti-Semitic, or else! Me, I don't get the problem with Mary Robinson, and will now have to read further. My initial take is that she might just be of the mindset that much of the world has towards Israel, rather than Judaism.

Of course, many of the people I met at Emory (including one of the guys on the comment board who complained that the SGA wouldn't fund Alan Dershowitz or Elie Wiesel -- at best, he misremembers) never did seem to allow for a difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. If you weren't willing to support every action of the Israeli government, every illegal (even according to the Israeli government) settler on the West Bank and Gaza, you were an anti-Semite and just looking for the next Hitler.

It's an interesting atmosphere for a Methodist Seminary in Atlanta.

Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at April 28, 2004 03:08 PM


I think it's that Robinson presided over that joke international conference on racism that turned into a giant anti-semitic glob of doom. The Wheel had an article on that earlier, but I didn't Google for that one today.

Of course, they could be conflating Zionism and judaism again, but this thing has been dragging along for a while now.

Posted by: BAW at April 28, 2004 04:02 PM

I like the stupid hats too, especially the puffy ones.

Posted by: Michael at April 28, 2004 10:17 PM

Ah, right -- I remember. I felt sorry for her at the time, too. All these less-developed nations being told that female circumcision, aspects of sharia, capital punishment, etc., infringed on human rights, and they respond by (unfortunately correctly) pointing out that Israel had been sanctioned by the UN for human rights violations ... massive escalation from there to the point where nothing was ever going to get done -- as if it ever had a chance. I suppose trying to keep things from getting even worse could be seen as anti-semitic. I think the poor woman was trying to be diplomatic. Funny thing, though -- the Robinson thing really ties into the post below quite well.

Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at April 29, 2004 02:12 PM

I didn't like the hats either, until my friend asked me what was more fitting for the end of my four-year journey than to wear a degenerate houppeland and a cracker on my head.

I don't remember the speaker or the speech. I do remember the magnolia chain we carried as we marched to the auditorium, and the song we sang although I only sang it that one time, in 1982. "To you, college comrades, dear friends of our youth, we tell of our love in our song...." And I remember our professors lined up for us to walk past, beaming, reaching out to congratulate us and hug us and wish us well. Sitting through the speech was kind of anticlimactic after that.

Posted by: Laura at May 2, 2004 02:06 PM