Flames of the Torch: on selecting commencement speakers of more diverse backgrounds


Torch Staff

Last week, St. John’s Law School announced that this year’s commencement speaker will be former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Not only is this exciting, as Bharara has been an influential figure in the landscape of the U.S. government, but it is also a step in a promising direction, following the lead of other universities with traditions of hosting notable figures as commencement speakers.

Preet Bharara made a name for himself as a federal prosecutor by dismantling money laundering schemes, securities frauds and organized crimes. He has been described by the New York Times as “one of the nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime.” Bharara has also been named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Last year, Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York became especially prominent in national news coverage after being fired by President Donald Trump. To hear him speak will not only be an honor for guests at the Law School commencement, but it’s also sure to be a learning experience.

Bharara’s appointment as commencement speaker is a refreshing change from the norm at St. John’s, and we hope it’s a change whose effects will be felt at the undergraduate level, too. The University has not yet announced its commencement speaker for the undergraduate ceremony. The Torch has requested a list of 2018 commencement speakers from St. John’s, but has not yet received it.

Many colleges host commencement speakers of national prominence. Over the last few years, St. John’s has mostly chosen members of the religious community who perhaps aren’t as well known to graduating students. While their speeches always prove to be powerful, we would love to see St. John’s break from this practice and choose a newsmaker such as Bharara to speak at our undergraduate commencement ceremonies.

In 2016, for example, St. John’s hosted Bishop of Brooklyn Nicholas DiMarzio as the commencement speaker for the undergraduate ceremony on the Queens campus. That same year, UC Berkeley hosted Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, as its commencement speaker, while UPenn hosted Lin Manuel Miranda. Speakers like these could provide a different perspective for the graduating class to consider as they embark on the rest of their lives.

While the messages at recent commencements have been uplifting, it would be a welcome change to see St. John’s deviate from its recent practice and try to get prominent speakers of varying backgrounds to address the University.

Graduating seniors often are told on graduation they should shoot for the stars. We feel the university should do so too.