Editorial: Choosing graduation keynote speaker needs more thought, process

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After spending four years at a university, students look forward to graduation – families traveling to watch them graduate, professors congratulating the graduating class and of course, taking hundreds of ‘selfies.’

Usually, alumni or experienced business individuals share his or her life experiences to inspire the soon-to-be alumni. So it was surprising when the speaker was a fellow student.No offense to the key note speaker last year, Olin Blackmore, but having a colleague give his class future achievements and life advice is not as effective when compared to inviting someone who has lived life following college and has knowledge and experiences to share.

Graduation is the cherry on top of a student’s undergraduate career and it is those words of wisdom that inspire and reassure students that their degree and hard work will pay off.

A student like Blackmore cannot be compared to an alumni or professional speaker because he was at the time, an undergraduate who has yet to experience the world in that way.

While Blackmore did a great job presenting his speech to his classmates, he lacked that experience a graduation speaker would have when sharing life tips, secrets and goals.

We understand the university has to work within a budget for big events like graduation, but this should be an exception. Students may seem like they do not care about who speaks at graduation, but they do.

The graduation speaker is also one of the very last speeches students will receive in college and it is one they remember well. With the four years of dedication to earning that college degree, students look forward to hearing from someone who was in the same boat as they were, looking for a job and still unsure of where those next steps in life should be. Post-graduation life is not always set. Some students further their education, go straight into the work force or take a year off and travel.

Having someone with plenty of business and life experiences come to talk as a keynote speaker helps boost confidence right before the big leap into a world of uncertainties. The Career Development Center does provide students with various tools and skills in life beyond college but having a person with a lot of experience on the stage telling us what we need to know about “real life,” provides a wake-up call and motivation.

We are not saying the university should spend a lot of money to get an established person to speak at commencement.

We are pointing out that there are different alternatives. Having a student speak for free does not have to be the only option. Reaching out to alumni would be a better alternative. The university has provided effective speakers in the past and they should continue to do so as a final moment of education and guidance that Pacific has provided since 1847.

Pacific alumna Judiaann Woo ’94, was the keynote speaker for the 2007 commencement ceremonies. Woo’s speech was inspirational and effective.

We are not saying Blackmore was a bad choice, because he was an excellent candidate for the opportunity in presenting the keynote and did a wonderfully eloquent and inspirational speech that all of the students were able to relate to. He just was not an “ideal” keynote speaker for an audience full of very-soon-to-be graduates who are about to jump into the uncertainty, difficulty and joys of the real world.


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