“SO, WHAT DID YOU THINK of the speakers?” I ask my daughter as we walk toward the clock tower on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, following commencement ceremonies. She has just graduated with a Spanish degree and I am curious if she shares my opinion of the commencement speeches.
My daughter is at first non-committal, certainly not enthusiastic, but not critical either.
“I felt like we were at a political science pep fest,” I tell her. She quickly agrees.
Between the two speakers—a political science graduate and the Wisconsin Public Service Commissioner, also a former legislator—I’ve heard enough references to politics and a certain UW-L political science professor that those comments overshadow all other content.
Given the context of this celebration, I don’t care who campaigned for President here beginning back with John F. Kennedy. I don’t care which Wisconsin politician was inspired by an instructor here. I don’t care about re-election in Wisconsin, especially since I am a Minnesotan.
It is unfortunate that I feel this way, but I can’t deny my reaction to commencement speeches laced with political references.
At one point during the graduation ceremony, I ponder leaving the stuffy, packed gymnasium in protest. I once walked out on a sermon that particularly needled me and I once failed to return to a theatrical performance. But I realize that exiting this time will serve no purpose except to disappoint my daughter.
Instead, let me offer this suggestion to university commencement organizers and speakers: Please, keep the spotlight on the graduates, all of the graduates. They have worked hard, and paid a lot of money, to earn their degrees whether in education, communications, a foreign language and, yes, even political science, and many other fields of study.
If you wish to recognize retiring faculty or single out individual professors for accolades, then do that at another ceremony. Like the graduates, they deserve their own hour of honor.
Keep even the slightest hint of politics out of the podium.
Commencement should focus solely on the graduates (although that “thank you” to the families was a nice touch) and all that they have accomplished.
© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling