Students deserve input

This year’s commencement exercises will feature author and journalist Pete Hamill as the keynote speaker at the Staten Island Campus, and Bob and Suzanne Wright, co-founders of the Autism Speaks Foundation, who will address the Queens campus.

Graduating students have expressed disappointment with this decision, which is not surprising seeing that they have virtually no input in deciding who the University chooses
to address them.

In a statement released by the University’s Media Relations department, the power to make this decision has been entrusted to “a committee of contributors”. It can be said that the choice to entrust such a decision to an exclusive committee and not the student body itself is unfair to say the least.

Granted, there are administrative privileges that should be exercised when deciding who will give a speech as important and influential as the commencement address.

After all, this is a Catholic, Vincentian university which prides itself on embodying these ideals in both its curriculum as
well as its event planning.

St. John’s must ensure that the commencement speaker does not contradict these ideals in both their social and business involvement, not to mention during the address itself.

The co-chairs of this committee scrutinize their choices for these reasons, and must seek approval from the University’s Board of Trustees before any decision is made.

But college graduation is a benchmark event in the lives of so many in the St. John’s community; in fact, it is the very goal that faculty advisers help students to achieve.

Students who have toiled and labored in the classroom and have loyally paid increasing tuition and student activity fees deserve to be inspired and motivated by the speaker of their choice at graduation.

Though there’s no guarantee that their speaker would accept the invite, the idea should at least be considered. Furthermore, fanfare is a part of our society and should be taken into account. Students should not only be inspired by the message given by the keynote speaker, they should also be intrigued by the speaker them self. This would be easily satisfied if students were given the option to choose who
the speaker will be.

In light of this, and given the history of student responses to the choice of past commencement speakers and the lack of student-administrator collaboration that went into making these decisions, St. John’s students may need to take a page from the University of California-Merced’s book.

Last year, the 450 student graduating class proactively sought out First Lady Michelle Obama to be the keynote speaker by inundating her with letters and even a video. They eventually accomplished their goal, as she agreed and delivered the then-four year old university’s inaugural
commencement address.

If 450 students can attract the First Lady of the United States, imagine what the voices of almost
3,000 could accomplish.

But this is not to negate administrative involvement. At minimum, students should at least be able to compile a list of potential commencement speakers, and through Student Government, formally submit it to University administration. This type of collaboration would definitely be an improvement to a process in
need of much retooling.

Graduation and the delivering of the commencement address have both administrator and student interest embedded within them and a
happy medium can be found.