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Our commencement speaker

| Thursday, January 23, 2014

Last week, Notre Dame announced that Oxford chancellor Christopher Patten will speak at the University’s 2014 Commencement ceremony. While Patten’s list of achievements is lengthy and impressive, when Notre Dame students heard the news, many of our reactions sounded something like, “Christopher, who?”
We don’t mean to criticize Patten. He’s clearly a respectable man who may very well deliver a fantastic speech. Still, ever since the decision to honor President Barack Obama at the 2009 Commencement ceremony, Notre Dame’s selection of Commencement speakers has been distinctly vanilla.
While speakers like Andy Samberg or Bono might fall too far on the entertainment side of the spectrum, why not invite leaders such as Melinda Gates, who spoke at Duke last year? Or Google chairman Eric Schmidt, who spoke at Boston University in 2012?
Seniors want to be able to state the name of their Commencement speaker with pride, and without having to explain who that person is or what they did to deserve an honorary degree from Notre Dame. Most of all, we don’t want to be bored or uninterested on one of the most important days of our lives.
We know choosing a Commencement speaker is a balancing act. Extending honorary degrees are momentous occasions for the University and for the recipients. As an institution, we recognize speakers for their contributions to society and welcome them into the Notre Dame community. As students, we identify with their successes and look to their experiences for guidance in our post-graduate careers.
So, what should a Commencement speaker bring to the table? We want someone well-known who we feel we can relate to and someone who won’t put us to sleep on graduation day. While few of us will remember exactly what is said during the actual speech, the message will undoubtedly affect the finale of our Notre Dame careers and the opening strains of our post-graduate lives.
University spokesman Dennis Brown said the University’s president and other administrators select and invite the Commencement speaker, but “anyone, including students, can submit suggestions to the president’s office for consideration.”
Meanwhile, juniors at Saint Mary’s recently received an email requesting their input for their Commencement speaker next year. Such an explicit invitation marks a level of respect from the administration for the student body’s maturity and personality.
Since this conversation is also open to Notre Dame students, let’s avoid the annual confusion and disappointment that often follows the speaker announcement. Juniors, organize yourselves and submit your ideas to the Office of the President. Pick somebody you admire, somebody who can capture an audience’s attention and, most of all, somebody you’ll remember as the capstone speaker for your time at Notre Dame.

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