Selection of Chu fitting for class of 2010

From engaging with the vice-presidential debate to lobbying for MetroLink expansion and leading the campus’s response to the incident this fall at Mother’s Bar, the Class of 2010 has been defined by student activism.

The seniors have helped to imbue the campus with an unprecedented level of excitement on issues ranging from race to environmental sustainability. As they diverge on their own separate paths, we can only hope that the seniors carry this passion and commitment into their future communities. The University should rightfully send the seniors off in proper fashion with a Commencement speaker who will inspire students to incorporate the voice they were easily able to express in a university setting in the “real world.”

This year’s Commencement speaker, Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy for the Obama administration, is a choice that reflects the character of the class of 2010. He was definitely not on any students’ shortlists for Commencement speaker yet is an expert on an issue that will challenge and define the generation of graduates. During a time when energy-related issues are paramount, his message has the potential to be especially relevant.

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He may not be the household name we hope for each year, but at this point it’s really hard to complain about the choice. In 2008, Commencement speaker Chris Matthews delivered a political message that didn’t resonate with the student body. Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teacher for America and the 2009 Commencement speaker, represented a more promising choice since the core mission of her program embodies the ability of young people to impel change in this world. However, she delivered a lackluster speech that failed to engage a significant portion of the graduating class that either disagreed with the purpose of her program or whose interests lay elsewhere.

Chu is a Nobel Prize winner and throughout his career, he has worked to find alternative energy choices. He has the power and influence to change the direction of energy use in our country. He is also a St. Louis native whose father taught at Washington University. We hope that his speech reflects the knowledge of the community that he clearly has.

Chu is not without his controversy, however. On Wednesday, hours before the University’s announcement, President Obama delivered a speech proposing oil and natural gas drilling in the southeast coastline of the Atlantic, eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska. Though the sensitive coastline north of New Jersey as well as Alaska’ Bristol Bay will continue to be closed to drilling, this is the first time the other areas have been opened, and the news goes against the wishes of Obama’s environmentally conscious supporters and likely much of the student body.

We hope Chu avoids delivering a speech that turns his back on his academic roots in favor of the rhetoric of the Obama administration’s new plan. If Chu focuses his speech on energy issues facing this generation and does not make it just a political stump speech, it could leave a resounding sound in Brookings Quad. The open-minded approach he has taken on energy issues throughout his career has the potential to reach all students, no matter their interests.

So, Class of 2010, go into this Commencement with an open mind, because Chu just may be able to deliver that message that will stay with us long after graduation, just as a Commencement speech should. And while he is no Jon Stewart, we at least get a Nobel Laureate who is respectable enough to have been a guest on the Daily Show.

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