Graduates must have more than Albright

In less than two weeks, the University will host one of the most famous guests it has ever had. The College of Liberal Arts will bring in Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as its keynote speaker for commencement. Her appearance promises to be as memorable as when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the CLA’s commencement ceremony a few years ago. Not only do the two speakers mark a historical moment for the school, but they also represent a change in graduation traditions. In the future, the University can anticipate the issues at hand when such high profile figures come to campus.
This year, Albright will be the second major public figure to speak at a University commencement. Her arrival comes six weeks after Geraldine Ferraro, New York U.S. senatorial candidate and former vice presidential candidate, spoke at the Law School commencement. When Albright speaks at Williams Arena on June 14, she is expected to address a major foreign policy issue. As the nation’s leading foreign policy-maker and the first woman secretary of state, Albright could talk about anything and still draw in a large crowd. University officials expect no problem filling the arena. Due to space constraints, they’ve moved commencement from the usual ceremony space of Northrop Auditorium to Williams Arena. Even with the basketball arena’s 14,000 seats, University officials still expect too many people will want to attend the ceremony.
With 1,715 graduating students, CLA has the largest ceremony at the University. Usually three-fourths of the graduates participate in commencement and their guests are unlimited. But this year, the number of people that graduates can invite is limited to six. There will also only be one ceremony instead of two, making graduates and their guests sit through a longer commencement. This year’s CLA commencement is not the only time graduation traditions have been rearranged for a major public speaker. When Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the keynote address for the CLA graduation ceremony in 1995, similar accommodations were made. Commencement was moved to Williams Arena and one ceremony was held.
To some graduates, having a person of high stature such as Clinton or Albright speak is worth the change in traditions. When University officials decide on commencement speakers, they should not shy away from having such key public figures that can make the event memorable for graduates. But having graduates invite an unlimited number of guests should not be compromised for key public figures either. Although a commencement speaker is a vital part of graduation, the event is a time for graduates to share with friends and family members. The limited number of seats defeats the main purpose of why students attend their graduation ceremonies.
University officials have already had two test runs with the appearances of Clinton and Albright. With careful planning, future commencement ceremonies that bring in major headliners should accommodate all sides involved. Next time the University should seek other places to hold the ceremony when it expects a large crowd. Although such a solution would break away from the tradition of a campus ceremony, it is the closest compromise.