Is Lavin the right graduation speaker? No: Look outside STJ

The selection of men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin as the Class of 2012’s Commencement speaker is not necessarily a bad decision, but rather the next curious decision from an administration with a recent history full of curious decisions.

Last week, University President Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. said in a press release that Lavin is “a popular choice for this year’s Commencement festivities.” But popular for whom? Last year, St. John’s hired Vitamin Water co-founder Mike Repole, an alumnus, as its Commencement speaker, who reportedly spoke for free. It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that in selecting Lavin, the University would try and once again hire a speaker without having to pay him.

In his brief tenure at St. John’s, Lavin has had such a strong presence in the University community that it almost seems understood that he would speak at commencement. A speech from Lavin feels as obvious as a speech from Harrington — in addition to one from an outside speaker about whom students and their families can get excited.

Though Lavin may be one of the most popular St. John’s employees on campus, as well as one with an inspiring story to tell—he battled and defeated prostate cancer this past year while further developing his Red Storm program into one of college basketball’s most promising—he is still only a St. John’s employee.

Lavin may have a sense of dedication and pride for St. John’s, but to hire him on those grounds misses the point of hiring a Commencement speaker. Commencement is not a showing of gratitude toward the University for our attendance—our lofty tuition payments are—but rather a celebration of our accomplishments while in college and a means of inspiration for impending adulthood.

Hiring a noteworthy outside speaker, coincidentally, would do both. Wouldn’t you have gratitude toward St. John’s for hiring Steve Carell to speak at Commencement, as Princeton did? Wouldn’t he make you even more excited for graduation and inspired to enter the adult world? How about Bill Nye the Science Guy (Rochester Institute of Technology), Aaron Sorkin (Syracuse) — or even New York Yankee Derek Jeter, who will receive an honorary degree from Siena?

Instead, the Class of 2012 at St. John’s will have its own men’s basketball coach address them, a man who has spent less time at St. John’s than most of its graduates. Toss your caps to that.