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Seniors deserve voice on Commencement Speaker

Staff Editorial | Thursday, April 3, 2008

This week, the University announced that Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington D.C., would give this year’s Commencement address. No doubt, Cardinal McCarrick is a worthy Commencement speaker. He has a distinguished career and was with members of Notre Dame in France earlier this year to celebrate the beatification of Fr. Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

But how much of a voice did the senior class have in the process of choosing Cardinal McCarrick? Apparently, not much.

Senior class president Bridget Keating and vice president Chris Doughty said the Provost’s office contacted senior class officers and asked for their input last May. In response, the senior class officers sent e-mails to their class members and asked for their suggestions. The officers assembled a list of three possible candidates and sent it to the Provost’s office: Stephen Colbert, the Emmy and Peabody-winning host of “The Colbert Report,” was the most popular choice. The senior officers also submitted U2 lead singer and global poverty activist Bono, and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female member of the Supreme Court, as other possible candidates. The class officers also sent suggestions for the types of speakers seniors would like to see, Keating said.

However, after the officers submitted this list, the Provost’s office did not ask the council to have further involvement in the process of selecting a speaker, despite the senior class officers’ requests to have more input.

This should change. Commencement is the most important moment in the any student’s academic career and seniors should have a stronger voice in the selection of a Commencement speaker. They shouldn’t submit suggestions, only to have no further input as to the final decision.

According to the vice president for News and Information, Dennis Brown, University president Fr. Jenkins makes the final decision regarding the selection of Commencement speaker with consultation with board members, and other officers at the University.

But where are the seniors in this consultation?

If the seniors’ suggestions for Commencement speaker are not viable options, and since he makes the final decision, can’t Fr. Jenkins work with the seniors to ensure the selection of a speaker both the University and senior class would like? After all, this is a weekend for the seniors and their families. We’re not saying Fr. Jenkins should always select whom the seniors want, but they should have a greater voice in the discussion.

Brown said the Univeristy pays each speaker a “modest honorarium” so money shouldn’t play too much of an issue in selection of a speaker. Brown also said the University tries to vary the fields the Commencement speakers come from. One year the speaker could be somebody from entertainment, another year from politics or business, another year from the Church or some other field. If the class officers select speakers from the field of a recent Commencement speaker, Fr. Jenkins shouldn’t simply toss the seniors’ suggestions to the side, he should consult the senior class officers and work with it to select a speaker from the field the University wishes to represent this year.

And if he does try to book one of the seniors’ suggestions and he can’t, he should communicate that to the council and work with them to select another speaker.

This way, everyone has a voice in the process, and the seniors will know the administration respected their input in preparation of one of the most significant days of their lives.