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The GW Hatchet

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Andrew Siddons: SJT is headlining Commencement, get over it

In June of 2003, when I graduated from high school, my class was expecting a commencement on a beautiful early summer’s day, on the elegant quad atop our sprawling green lawn.

But Mother Nature wouldn’t have it, as rain forced the ceremony into a humid gym. It was kind of a bummer.

Four years later, it’s funny to see how things work out. I’m not talking about the weather, of course, but the recent announcement that University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg will be the keynote speaker for the class of 2007.

The Hatchet broke this news last Wednesday, and there was an immediate response from the senior class. It wasn’t positive. Within a few hours, I had been invited to join three Facebook groups devoted to ousting SJT as our headliner. Two petitions began circulating, and at the time of this writing, 25 percent of the senior class has declared their desire to enlist Stephen Colbert as our Commencement speaker. The University and Trachtenberg deserve to feel our ire, especially in light of our president’s recent statements to the press, which have been callous and condescending.

The University has given us a little more than a month to get over it and judging by the emotional nature of the response – I’ve heard people who say they wanted to punch a wall after hearing the announcement or say that they’re embarrassed to tell their families – some might need that time.

Naturally, we’re disappointed with the selection. Past Commencement speakers have included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Bill Cosby. Last year, former President and first lady George H.W. and Barbara Bush set the bar pretty high.

So why Trachtenberg? He was going to speak anyway in his annual charge to the graduates. The Board of Trustees is telling us the decision is in honor of what he’s given to the University. It probably has more to do with the fact that they couldn’t find anybody else. I doubt that Trachtenberg was the plan all along. Indeed I would wager that they made the effort, but came up short. Is this reflective of GW’s reputation?

A higher education blogger from the National Review Online writes, “you’d think that GW might at least be able to snag a freshman congressman with nothing to do on a Sunday.” And we probably could. But would we really want that? The Hatchet editorial board wrote last week that a commencement speaker ought to provide “fulfilling insight and positive lasting memories.” If our only standards are somebody who isn’t Trachtenberg, a random celebrity or obscure politico would do, right? Who cares, as long as it’s not SJT?

But this standard is far from guaranteeing us fulfilling insight upon our entrance into the world. It gives you a chance to say “I had (insert name here) speak at my graduation,” which is fitting for GW, a campus where luxury dorms and gourmet food appeal more to prospective students than a Nobel laureate professor might. We’ll sacrifice substance for a name and an image. So I guess it’s consistent that if a “lesser” school gets a high-profile speaker, we’re fuming like little children.

Rarely, I think, a speaker will give a speech so electrifying that we’ll remember it long after the fact. On this day, a majority of us will probably be too much a combination of antsy, excited or hungover to pay really close attention. And more than likely, you’ve already made up your mind whether or not you’ll be cutting checks to GW as alumni. Would a good speaker really have changed that? Come graduation, hopefully people will come to realize that jeering or turning their backs for something so innocuous is petty and immature.

Now, when I think about my high school graduation, I don’t think about that sweaty gym and I certainly don’t remember what any of the speakers had to say. What I do remember was celebrating with my family beforehand and with my friends afterward. So if Trachtenberg is really going to spoil your good time, I feel sorry for you.

Rain though? That would be a bummer.

-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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