In between their last classroom lectures and their first workplace or graduate school orientations, the Class of 2013 will sit through one more speech, and it’s likely to be especially pertinent to their Georgetown experiences.
Because of the size of the audience gathered and the diverse range of student interests, many universities use commencement speeches as an opportunity to draw high-profile public figures and celebrities to their campuses to deliver one speech for the entire graduating class. Georgetown, on the other hand, chooses to hold separate graduations for each school and often invites speakers whose interests and achievements reflect those of the school they address, but likely aren’t celebrities. And although few seniors would object to having Amy Poehler wish them luck like she did to the graduating class of Harvard in 2011, this unique Georgetown tradition is one worth keeping.
Last year’s speaker choices included the founder of LivingSocial for the McDonough School of Business, the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association for the School of Foreign Service, the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania focused on foreign policy and health for the School of Nursing & Health Studies and the creator of the critically acclaimed TV show “The Wire” for the College. While no speaker can perfectly represent every student who attends a particular school, the choices were well-suited for the schools they sought to address.
The commencement speech offers an opportunity for students to hear from a professional whose experience in one form or another reflects that of the school they are addressing at Georgetown. By tailoring the speaker specifically to the academic backgrounds of the audience, each speech allows for not only warm wishes and best regards but also more nuance, depth and relevance in subject matter. This tradition is especially appropriate given that Georgetown confers honorary degrees to the invited speakers. The speaker must carry the weight of the school being addressed. As such, Georgetown commencement goes beyond a mere popularity contest in allocating the university’s graduation budget to the biggest name available.
When names are unveiled for this year’s speakers, and as the process begins for selecting those for the Class of 2014, we hope to see a continued preference for substance over name recognition.