By Michael Battista
As a senior here at the College, I’m faced with the fact that in a few months I will no longer be a student. After taking photos of graduation ceremonies for two years, I will be the one up on stage with a tassel and black gown. While part of me is still dealing with the existential crisis that comes with completing my higher education, I’ve watched both of my older siblings graduate from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and I’m excited for it to finally be my turn.
However, the difference between my siblings’ graduation and my own is that while they were afforded the opportunity to be inspired by a celebrity commencement speaker from outside of their college, I will not be afforded that same opportunity at my graduation ceremony.
According to the 2017 commencement brochure, “The main ceremony in Lions Stadium is an outdoor event featuring a full academic processional, remarks by President (R. Barbara) Gitenstein, the commencement faculty speaker chosen by the senior class and the conferral of degrees.”
Students have departmental ceremonies where teachers that they’ve grown close with can give them farewell words and speeches in a more personal setting. Given the fact that they already had a separate ceremony with their respective departments, students should be afforded a different perspective of someone no longer working or attending the College at commencement. While I’m not saying anything disparaging about the professors here at the College — especially with my four years in the journalism department, headed by talented and well-trained professionals — I still don’t think it’s right for them to not even consider asking alumni to come back and speak at commencement.
Why is it that the College, which has a reputation for being one of the best public schools in the country, will not ask one of its more prominent graduates to come and talk during graduation?
Just a quick look at the ‘notable alumni’ section of Wikipedia brings up some pretty cool names like Holly Black (’94) who is the author of “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” former New Jersey Governor James ‘Jim’ Florio (’94) and Tom McCarthy (’90), who is the television voice of the Philadelphia Phillies. These few names mentioned are only scraping the surface of a long list.
Besides alumni speakers, there’s another option that I’d like to entertain. As the College that includes the state’s name, maybe we could bring in some of New Jersey’s brightest sons and daughters. In my wildest dreams, I’d love to have Bruce Springsteen, Judge Esther Salas — who was the first Hispanic woman appointed to the federal New Jersey District Court — or Victor Cruz come and talk about the challenges they faced in life and how they got to where they are now. Heck, Derek Jeter was born in New Jersey before he moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I wouldn’t count him out, either.
I know there are a few issues with celebrities coming to the College to speak at commencement. One problem is that it may be hard to reach someone to get them to speak at commencement because we might have to go through their publicist first. Also, even if we convinced a celebrity to speak, it can be debated whether the College should be investing its dollars elsewhere.
I seriously doubt comedians like alumni Kenny and Keith Lucas (’07) would ever cost the College much. If the College wants to keep its money close, there is a plethora of options that come right from its own backyard who may be more than happy for the honor to talk.
With this being President Gitenstein’s last year as president of the College, I hope that it’s possible that us students can convince her to allow a non-professor to come and speak to us in May — not just for the spectacle, but to hear what they have to say and leave us with the lasting impression that we can take with us into the real world.
Students share opinions around campus
“Should the College allow alumni to speak at commencement?”
“I think an alumni, depending on their contributions to society, can speak at graduation.”
“Yeah, because they’ve been through what we have been through, and can give us better insight.”