Avatar of admin


Good Riddance to Commencement Speakers

May 28, 2014 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


When I completed my economics degree I didn’t bother to attend the graduation ceremony. Although my parents had helped me out with some expenses, I had paid my tuition each semester with my own money I earned by mopping floors. I didn’t see any reason why I should give that well-heeled corporation known as the University of Colorado, which I had already paid handsomely, yet another morning of my life or the opportunity to subject me to a variety of forgettable speeches from faculty members and administrators who don’t know the first thing about holding down a real job.

Graduation ceremonies mostly exist to stroke the egos of the faculty members and give the institution itself a pat on the back while simultaneously attempting to convert the new alumni into donors. The most absurd aspect of the graduation ceremony, however, is the commencement speech. This, we are told, is some sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear an advocate for mass murder like Condoleeza Rice, or a lawless oligarch like Christine Lagarde, lecture new graduates about “giving back” to the community, or being yourself, or following your dreams.

As with most everything that occurs as a university, the purpose of the commencement speech is not to provide a service to the students, but to make the institution’s faculty and staff feel important. If an institution can land a celebrity speaker (no matter how blood-soaked or morally bankrupt) to deliver the commencement speech, it will be great for the next fundraising campaign, and if the speaker says something really entertaining, insightful, or controversial, then it might even get the institution in the evening news. It’s time to admit that the commencement speech serves a public relations function, not an educational one.

So strong is the myth of higher education institutions as the mediators or public debate, however, that faculty and pundits and others in the thrall of the academy, become indignant whenever students express disliking for the commencement speakers, which are, of course, invariably chosen without consulting the students themselves.

This year’s commencement season brought with it the usual controversy, and several commencement speakers withdrew after some students protested. Among those who withdrew were Condoleeza Rice and Christine Lagarde.  It turns out that some students didn’t want to be lectured by people who have based their careers on murder and thievery, respectively.

It should be noted that most students who attend commencement ceremonies couldn’t care …read more


Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.