April 3, 2014
The long-awaited commencement news has arrived (see our cover story). Journalist and author Christopher Dickey will give the commencement address, and musician Rosanne Cash will give the baccalaureate address. The College will also bestow honorary degrees on Posse Foundation founder Deborah Bial and lawyer Thomas J. Schwarz ’66.
To put it frankly, the selection of Dickey for commencement speaker will leave many asking, “Who?” While students might recognize Dickey’s name from a lecture he delivered a few weeks ago about policing in a post-9/11 America, no would consider him a household name. Compared to the selection of Hillary Clinton for a Sacerdote Great Names Series speaker in October, Dickey may seem like a letdown.
However, to judge a commencement speaker solely on their lack of brand recognition is unfair. For one, having a great name does not always result in giving a great address. Dickey, moreover, brings a perspective vastly different than that of Hamilton’s previous two commencement speakers--Thomas Tull ’92 and A.G. Lafley ’69--both of whom found success in business and, not coincidentally, sit on the College’s Board of Trustees. By contrast, Dickey, who was born and raised in the American South, wrote a wide range of articles and books from Managua, Cairo, Paris and Tehran over the course of his journalistic career. In a globalizing world, where Hamilton students will likely find themselves constantly uprooted, Dickey’s message should be both relevant and welcomed.
The inclusion of Cash, Bial and Schwarz in Hamilton’s ceremony is also commendable. As the daughter of highly influential Johnny Cash and a prominent artist in her own right, Cash might have the most name recognition of any person at Hamilton’s commencement; she will make an excellent leader for Saturday’s baccalaureate ceremony. Additionally, The Spectator applauds the honorary degrees granted in honor of Bial and Schwarz’s impressive accomplishments in their respective educational and legal careers, two fields that are popular for Hamilton students.
Despite all of these positive aspects of the commencement decision, the planning for Hamilton’s commencement can use improvement. Student input for the commencement speaker, a perennial concern of The Spectator, has improved over the years. Yet, given the magnitude of the event, the committee who chooses the speaker, which primarily consists of Board of Trustees members, should still involve more students. Additionally, commencement could use a greater diversity of speakers: of the last 10 commencement speakers, nine have been white, eight have been men and eight have made their name in business or politics.
Nonetheless, it is important to step back and remember that Commencement is about much more than just a speaker and a ceremony. It is about celebrating the past and future accomplishments of a remarkable group of 500 individuals. While the Class of 2014 may or may not remember the words spoken to them during this significant event, they will always remember the friends they made and ideas they shared over their career at on the Hill. And when the caps are thrown in the air, we think that’s really what matters most.