EDITORIALS

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May 12, 2009

Don't lecture us

The U of C should invite non-faculty commencement speakers.

This spring’s commencement speaker is still to be determined, but we can make a pretty good guess as to who will take the podium after finals week. In keeping with tradition, the graduation speaker will be selected from the most eminent talent pool available to us: the University’s own faculty. It’s a custom that seems rooted in the U of C’s commitment to quirky intellectualism, and as with many other such manifestations, such as the Uncommon Application, it’s a practice that has outlived its utility.

At other institutions, a big name tends to be high on the wish list of traits in a speaker. Harvard’s selections in recent years include Kofi Annan, Jim Lehrer, and Bill Gates; this year, Notre Dame will bring President Obama to its campus. Such figures bring more to campus than just their fame; each has made noteworthy accomplishments that lend themselves to an interesting and valuable graduation speech. Restricting speakers to only those with U of C credentials limits the experiences and knowledge that would-be speakers might impart.

Our professors undoubtedly have valuable words of wisdom to share, but a keynote address by a faculty member is not in line with the spirit of graduation. The goal of commencement should not be to bookend four years at the U of C with one final lecture from a favorite professor. Graduation is a celebratory time, and the sentiment of the day is the excitement of finally being released into the real world, where students can apply what they’ve learned over the past four years. A speech from a public figure who has accomplished great things outside of academic circles would capture that feeling. Such a speaker would also bring an outside perspective valuable to students as they start their lives beyond the U of C.

While efforts to make the U of C more like other schools tend to elicit backlash, going with a more mainstream approach to selecting a speaker is consistent with recent University trends. By inviting a headline-worthy speaker, the U of C would also take an important step toward shedding its insular nature.

According to the University website, the graduation ceremony “focuses on continuity in the search for knowledge.” The ideal person to address the outgoing class at graduation then, is not someone who represents the faculty members whom students have been listening to for the past four years. The best candidate is one whose real world accomplishments epitomize a continued search for knowledge.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.