Commencement speaker Christie
Last week’s announcement that Gov. Chris Christie will serve as the 2011 Commencement keynote speaker has drawn a strong response across campus.
Christie is a 1987 graduate of Seton Hall Law. The Republican governor began his term in 2010 and has spent much of his time in office focusing on the state’s approach to education, even dubbing 2011 “the year of education reform” as part of the Christie Reform Agenda.
This places the College of Education and Human Services under the spotlight as perhaps the strongest in opinion on this year’s speaker
“Basically, the general feeling among students is disappointment,” Joseph DePierro, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, said. “The day is supposed to be about the students, not the governor.”
DiPierro referenced Christie’s cuts to state funding for public education as striking a nerve with some graduates.
“Someone who is making it difficult for (the graduates) to get a job is speaking as they’re getting their diplomas,” DiPierro said.
Christie offered a brief statement regarding the opportunity to speak to the University’s Class of 2011.
“The governor is pleased to return to his alma mater to address the graduating class of 2011,” Sean Conner, spokesperson to the governor, said.
University President Dr. Gabriel Esteban also offered a statement, as he was away from campus since the Office of the Provost made the Commencement announcement by email on April 29.
“I am pleased to learn from the Office of the Provost that a Seton Hall alumnus and governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has been selected to serve as our Commencement speaker this year,” Esteban said.
“The process for choosing our speakers is well established, with the Provost’s Office handling suggestions, screening and final selection,” he said. “It is vital that, at least on occasion, we invite distinguished and accomplished University alumni to address us and to present to the general public a message about the value of a Seton Hall education.”
Aside from administrators, many students who will attend Commencement as graduating seniors have also been open about their views of the governor and Seton Hall’s choice of him for the event.
Senior Sally Hourigan will be a member of the dais party with Christie as she has been selected to sing the national anthem and the alma mater at Commencement.
“I don’t think it was the best idea for Seton Hall to choose such a divisive figure,” Hourigan said, adding that political views aside, many have “strong opinions” on Christie.
She also understands the potential viewpoint of the College of Education graduates.
“I’m particularly interested in the College of Education and how they receive him,” Hourigan said. “I understand why (Seton Hall selected Christie), but there should have been some sensitivity to the students for this particular governor.”
Senior Gary La Spisa is excited about Christie as the speaker, having worked with the Seton Hall College Republicans and the governor during his election campaign.
“I sent him an email as soon as I found out,” La Spisa said. “It’s a tremendous honor to me personally that he’s speaking at my graduation. It’s also a tremendous honor for the University to have the sitting governor of the state speaking at Commencement.”
La Spisa said that he would find it “disrespectful” if students protested significantly at the event. Large, organized protests were evident at Monmouth University’s Commencement a year ago at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, with some students even turning their backs to Christie as he spoke.
“It’s disrespectful not because they don’t have a right to disagree, but at a non-political event…he took time out of his schedule to speak to the graduates,” La Spisa said.
He added that if just College of Education students protest, it is likely because “they have a biased view of the platform” that Christie offers on state education.
Senior Ryan Dicovitsky, a political science major, also examined the University’s Commencement speaker decision through Christie’s actions as governor, calling the choice “terrible.”
“In Christie, we have chosen a speaker notorious for rejecting all civil discourse and yelling down his opponents,” Discovitsky said. “I find it entirely hypocritical that the school would preach love, respect and kindness, and then give public airing to the opinions of a man who is the antithesis of those values.”
Dicovitsky also added that he hopes Christie can “tone down his personal ambition” so Commencement can be about the students graduating.
Derel Stroud, a junior who recently was elected SGA president, offered a more moderate view.
“Governor Christie would indeed be a great speaker, and would offer positive influence, as well as words of wisdom for the graduating class,” Stroud said in a statement. “I find the decision for the Governor to address our graduating class to be interesting based on his stance on higher education.”
Brian Wisowaty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.