Hopkins senior Ben Wasser started an online petition last week to provide students with greater control over the selection of commencement speakers. The aim of the petition is to make the selection process more transparent and democratic and to perhaps even fund future commencement speakers.
The editorial board believes that graduating students should have a say in who speaks at their commencement. This is only fair given that commencement ceremonies are designed to celebrate the accomplishments of the students.
The University could adopt a process in which the selection committee would compile a list of speakers who would be willing to give the commencement address. The purpose of this would be to create a list of candidates for the members of the graduating class to vote on. Hopkins students are familiar with this medium for making decisions, and this form of direct democracy would be a tremendous improvement.
The drawback to such a system, however, is that students can only choose among a preordained list of speakers, which would not actually allow students to be involved in the selection process as a whole. A large volume of the objections made to previous commencement speakers are not based on the quality of the speakers themselves. Rather, it is that students feel they don’t have a say in the process, and an election from an approved list would not generate sentiments of meaningfully increased student influence.
The best solution would be to appoint or elect a group of representatives from the graduating class to an advisory committee. This would be similar to the system proposed above in that it would give the graduating seniors the ability to influence decisions, but it would be superior in two ways. First, by allowing students to actively participate in finding speakers, the graduating class would have a measure of control over their graduation ceremony. The second advantage of this is that the general student body could be sure that its wishes are taken into consideration. Should a more popular speaker be unable to attend for reasons beyond anyone’s control, the graduates, while disappointed, would harbor no resentment against the administration because students would have had a say in the selection process. With a student presence and active involvement on the selection committee, transparency would be increased.