Seniors are wondering if there will be a keynote speaker at graduation this year, as in the past two years there has not been, to the dismay of many students.
Some students don’t think there will be a commencement speaker this year, but rather student speakers once again.
According to Dr. Joan Guetti, senior associate provost, details on whether there will be a commencement speaker this year are still being reviewed. It is too early to confirm anything,Guetti said.
Government Association (SGA) President Teagan Sebba, a senior majoring in political science, said SGA has been receiving complaints from students about having a commencement speaker since last year.
SGA has been relaying students’ frustration and anger to Student Services and Student Life, but last year SGA hit dead ends, Sebba stated. SHU administration has said having student speakers will become a new SHU tradition, Sebba added.
“I attended graduation last year and was hopeful,” Sebba said, thinking that “maybe the student speakers will say something motivating.” However, she says what was supposed to be a memorable occasion became forgettable.
“It needs to be special and memorable,” Sebba added, speaking about graduation. “A commencement speaker does that for a lot of people.”
She added that last year’s seniors started a petition on Change.org called “Seton Hall University 2016 Commencement Speaker.” It garnered 943 signatures out of its goal of 1,000.
The petition stated, “The Seton Hall University Commencement Committee has decided that it is best to permanently ban guest keynote speakers at commencement. This decision was made without any discussion with students.” It ended with “asking Seton Hall to reverse its decision and provide the senior class with an opportunity to be inspired.”
Sebba said last year there were many ideas of suggested keynote speakers floating around SHU. She suggested possible speakers such as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker or journalist Brian Williams. Sebba noted SHU would have to choose a speaker that aligns with their mission. However, she said the speaker can be both successful and non-controversial.
Elianni De La Cruz, the chairwoman of the Student Life Committee for SGA and a junior majoring in economics, said, “I try to voice the concerns that the student body brings to my attention and as of now, no one has personally reached out to me in regards to a commencement speaker.”
“If the students are passionate about the possibility of having a speaker, I would be happy to advocate for them,” She added in email.
Robin Nagel, a senior English major with minors in sociology, philosophy and criminal justice, said in an email, “I’m pretty certain we will not have a ‘guest speaker’ like a celebrity or community leader speaking. Seton Hall has made that pretty clear in recent years.”
She added, “There is something to be said (whether bragging rights or otherwise) to have some sort of celebrity or leader speak at your commencement—it’s also valuable in that you’re looking at someone who has been in your shoes and has advice for you moving forward. That’s not something you get with a fellow student speaker.”
Edward Chu, a senior Asian studies major, also thinks there will be no keynote speaker this year.
“There should be a commencement speaker because it is a great way for us graduates to hear and learn from what a commencement speaker has to say to us when speaking about what the future has in store for us,” Chu said via email.
He added that another reason there should be a commencement speaker is because his friends and alumni have told him this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear from famous, successful people. Last year, SHU’s rival, Rutgers University, had President Barack Obama speak at its graduation.
Nagel said she would prefer a guest speaker rather than students because guest speakers have made something of themselves and can offer advice.
“They’re human—they often talk about their own struggles and failures which doesn’t seem as authentic coming from a fellow student with a 4.0,” she added.
While to some degree Nagel said she enjoys hearing from student speakers, she has an issue in SHU’s selection process for student speakers. She said that the highest GPA-achieving students compete to speak at graduation and are chosen based on their speeches. While she sees the value in the smartest students being chosen to speak, she said, “the students who may have failed a bit (and therefore not have that perfect GPA) would have a better story.”
“Every commencement speech you see on YouTube, whether from J.K. Rowling or Meryl Streep or David Foster Wallace, all discuss the idea of failure, and their own failures, and that’s not something that seems to be readily apparent in SHU’s own selections,” Nagel added.
Samantha Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.