One afternoon, while conducting my routine check for Facebook notifications, I realized that one of my friends had added me to the “BU Seniors 2012” group. I quickly decided that it would be no harm and was actually a positive, because I wanted to remain aware of upcoming senior events. Apparently I was wrong. A few weeks later on a tame Thursday morning, I was bombarded with notifications. Fellow seniors were rushing to comment on the page’s wall. What was the new issue, you might ask? Commencement speaker.
It all started with the “BU 4 Colbert” comment, and then it spiraled out of control. Post after post, many suggested more popular candidates: Tina Fey, Anderson Cooper, Conan O’Brien. Others suggested more unconventional contenders: Kim Kardashian, Jay-Z, Comm Ave Runner. It was not until later in the night that one clear-thinking senior kicked some sense into all the other naïve soon-to-be graduates. She pointed out that Boston University has probably already confirmed a commencement speaker for the upcoming spring graduation. This wise senior woke us up from a silly dream. There is no vote. Students do not have a say.
In a Daily Free Press article published about last year’s commencement ceremony, Thomas Testa, Boston University’s assistant vice president for public relations, spoke about the process of selecting the recipients of the honorary degrees and the commencement speaker: “A committee comprised of BU faculty, administration, deans, and trustees determines a list of honorary degree candidates who they would like to extend an invitation to. Nominations can be made by the committee to extend to one of those from the list, the invite to be the main convocation speaker.” Clearly, students are not listed among the esteemed committee.
The fact that Boston University does not even consider the opinions of its graduating students for the commencement speaker, perhaps the highlight of the ceremony itself, is baffling. Graduation is something for which every student strives. The ceremony is the culmination of all the hard work, stress, and caffeine consumption of our college careers. We are the most important audience. While the commencement speaker is meant to offer inspiration for the future, the decision process teaches us to remain silent.
Numerous colleges and universities are taking steps toward involving students in the process. For example, Syracuse University has a website where the whole Syracuse community may make nominations. A committee of students then narrows the suggestions to a specific list that they believe is representative of the student population’s preferences. The list is handed to the university’s head chancellors who make the final decision. At Syracuse University, the students may trace their influence, even if their preferred speaker is not chosen.
Boston University does not have to adopt such an extreme system right away, but it should take steps in this direction. It can begin with students speaking to a panel of deans who can relay suggestions to the committee. Boston University needs a formal, scheduled event or forum where students may trace their impact. We’re talking baby steps. It may be too late for the Class of 2012. But juniors, you still have time to speak your minds. I’m sure Dean Elmore would appreciate your Steven Colbert, Tina Fey, and even Snooki nominations at a future Coffee and Conversation.
Eric Si is a senior in COM.