Make graduation ceremonies meaningful to graduates

By By Chronicle Senior Staff

By Chronicle Senior Staff

Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, will deliver the keynote address at graduation this year.

Although Secretary Leavitt is an influential American with strong ties to this state, few students are clamoring to hear him speak-a fact that reinforces the ambivalent attitude many students have toward graduation.

Many students approach graduation as a photo opportunity that they must endure. Others see it as a ceremony that recognizes the culmination of their achievements. Still others view it as a joke and don’t even plan to attend.

Some of us remember the speakers of the recent past: Catholic Bishop George H. Niederauer, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, author Terry Tempest Williams-the list goes on.

Some have raised concerns about inviting political speakers to what should be a nonpartisan event. Others have pointed out that even when political speakers give a keynote address, they self-censor themselves into talking about apolitical issues-and any interest in having heard them speak is negated by the sheer blandness of their comments.

What is the point of graduation? It is strange that there is no concrete answer to this question, which might explain why we don’t seem to have set guidelines to aid us in the selection of a speaker.

Whoever picks the graduation speaker for next year should answer that question for himself or herself. What is graduation for? What message is the U trying to get across to graduates? What goals are we trying to accomplish?

When these questions are answered, perhaps we will have a more meaningful speaker.

We don’t need to compete with other universities to find the most “prestigious” speaker, nor do we especially have to hunt out the most controversial.

Rather, we should think about what new graduates genuinely want to hear-not platitudes about the adventure they are embarking upon, and not empty compliments for having endured the rigors of earning a college education.

Students want to hear about average people overcoming adversity. They want to hear from individuals who found success in their chosen field-not especially those who were elected to high office, but those who open and operate their own business, publish a book, donate medical services to developing nations, etc.

Graduates want engaging, interesting speakers that they will be proud to remember in later years-speakers who will inspire, even if they aren’t as “important” as prestigious speakers.