Senior Ben Wasser has initiated an online petition asking the University to make the commencement speaker selection process more transparent and to pay future commencement speakers, after the selection of Hopkins neuroscientist and neurosurgeon Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa to be the 2013 commencement speaker.
Wasser wrote and published the appeal on Change.org, an online social movement petition platform, last week. The petition had garnered 265 supporters by Wednesday evening.
“I believe our university should know how important this event is to us, it’s the capstone of our undergraduate careers, and a large moment of reflection for us as we enter the world as Johns Hopkins Alumni,” Wasser wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
There are a few possible ways to go about changing this process.
“This petition is to change the way the school chooses its commencement speakers to have more input from the students, whether it’s to change [the] Hopkins process to make it more transparent or democratic, or even just to start a fund from alumni/students alike to fund future commencement speakers,” Wasser wrote.
The petition aims to change the commencement selection process in the years to come, not to force a late change to the commencement ceremony program this year. However, the petition has generated criticism from underclassmen.
“I think that it is disrespectful, but I see where they are coming from. I understand that they’ve heard Dr. Q., that he’s come twice now before commencement, but to publicly request this after being informed that Dr. Q. is the commencement speaker is insulting. It might be more appropriate to request this change after the commencement,” freshman Ahmed Elsayyad said.
Wasser decided to write and publish the petition after seeing complaints surface on Facebook and hearing grievances in person from other seniors about the selection of Quiñones-Hinojosa. He asked for feedback from other students before starting the petition. He discovered that people were most concerned about the point-of -view of the commencement speaker.
“It always feels good to see a Blue Jay making headlines in the news and being successful, but for commencement, right before we are flung into the real world, I believe students want to hear a different perspective, a voice that doesn’t come from within the extended Hopkins family,” Wasser wrote.
The proponents of the petition also believe commencement speakers are a matter of pride for the Hopkins community, especially for the alumni community. There was some disagreement among supporters of the petition about whether or not the University should actually allocate funding to pay the commencement speaker.
“While I am confident Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa will deliver an inspirational commencement address, the decision-making process for choosing each year’s commencement speaker would be significantly improved with student involvement. I do not believe, however, that the institution should fund the keynote address — do we really want a speaker who is only there because he/she is getting paid?” senior Kathryn Ledwell wrote in a comment on Change.org.
Wasser noted that he does not think Hopkins necessarily has to directly finance the bill each year, but that at the very least there should be a fund set up for that purpose.
“It would be interesting to see the senior donations go directly towards funding the speaker, this year's senior class gift committee has done an amazing job and I think our class is on route to break all the records, which is exciting, but I don’t know if that is possible, just an idea. To raise 200,000 for a speaker with a class of 1,200 would require about 170 per student. Maybe a combination of alumni giving and student giving. Graduation is a very important day to the entire student/alumni body, it reminds us of our experiences here, and plays a large factor in whether or not a student will become involved as an alumni,” Wasser wrote.