Get in on conversation about honorary degrees
Graduation is not until May, but it’s time for students to start a discussion of graduation speakers and honorary degrees. Washington University always begins the process of selecting a graduation speaker and honorary degree recipients far in advance of graduation, so if students want any part in the process, they need to get involved now.
As students, we should care about who speaks at our graduation because this individual will be the one to deliver the message that culminates our intellectual experience and guides us toward a meaningful future. But even if we are not graduating, the speaker selection reflects on the values of the University. By selecting an individual to inspire and address its graduates, the University says that it endorses their message or at least considers it a valuable one. In selecting its honorary degree recipients as well, the University makes a statement about the work it deems to be equivalent to a graduate degree. As members of the University community, it is important that we express our values and desires so that the University can make selections about speakers and honorary degree recipients who speak to all of Washington University.
In the past two years, Washington University has selected political pundits to speak at graduation. These choices seem out of touch with a youth population that has become increasingly weary of political gaming and seeking political opinion from the media.
Additionally, the college population has come to admire people more for what they have accomplished and how they have advanced our society, rather than for their opinions about other people. We are looking for inspiration from someone who has worked rather than someone who has observed. In this vein, speakers with experience, such as doctors, academics, scientists or policy-makers, will better reflect our values than pundits will.
But unless the University hears student opinion, it can only continue to select speakers and degree recipients without much regard for the types of people who will inspire and excite us. It is up to us to start a conversation about what type of individual is best suited to address our graduates and what types of individuals are suited to be honored by our University with honorary degrees. Start thinking about who reflects your values. Talk to other students about who reflects their values. And finally, share this information with the administration.
It’s time to become part of the graduation speaker and honorary degree selection process.