February 28, 2013
While the announcement of Thomas Tull ’92 as the 2013 commencement speaker is exciting for the entire community, the lack of student input in the decision is troubling. While the Hamilton community of alumni certainly offers a wide range of successful and interesting men and women to serve as commencement speakers, opening the decision up to the student body would ensure that the speaker reflects the aspirations of the graduating class.
Currently, a committee of trustees, President Joan Hinde Stewart, Executive Director, from the Office of the President Lori Dennison, three faculty members and merely three students choose the recipients of honorary degrees and the commencement speaker. Trustees outnumber students on the committee 4 to 1. While we respect the Hamilton trustees, they may not always know what the students seek in a commencement speaker. Three students cannot possibly represent the thoughts and feelings of nearly 500 graduates. Commencement is too important an event for students to lose their voice, especially considering the strong network of great names that is left unexplored in the decision process.
One way to fix this underrepresentation of students in this important decision is to request nominations from members of the senior class in advance. Students were polled during the bicentennial celebration about who they would like to see deliver the commencement address and receive honorary degrees. As far as our records reflect, no such e-mail was sent out this year. It is very possible that a member of the senior class might have a connection or the ability to bring a particular person to campus. Without surveying the senior class, the committee would have no way of knowing the full extent of potential commencement speakers.
The last two speakers chosen for graduation have been Hamilton alumni. Opening the process to nominations by the larger community will work to expand the pool of possible speakers outside of the Hamilton network. Hamilton’s refusal to pay a commencement speaker might explain the recent reliance on alumni speakers. However, it mystifies us that comparable institutions seem to attract more recognizable names to their graduation ceremonies.
A large draw to speaking at a Hamilton College commencement ceremony is the honorary degree awarded to each speaker, especially considering the lack of financial compensation for the speaker’s time. By choosing speakers who have already earned Hamilton degrees, the College is selling itself short, diminishing the great honor of receiving a degree from one of the nation’s top liberal arts institutions.
At the same time, we at The Spectator are excited to hear from Mr. Tull, considering his noteworthy career and his extensive experience in both business and creative fields. His story should make him relatable to a wide range of students. Last year’s speech by Proctor and Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley ’69 garnered mixed reviews; however, we have high expectations for this year’s commencement. We encourage the committee who selects the 2014 commencement speaker to reach out to the student body, especially the senior class, to help guide their decisions in selecting a speaker and recipients of honorary degrees. The student voice should be heard from Convocation to Commencement.