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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

UW needs to pay commencement speakers


Last week, the University made what should have been a grand unveiling of the 2012 spring commencement speaker. Instead, what we got was a rather disappointing “wah, wah” flop for a handful of seniors—a dud that appears to be an annual trend for the UW.

Like most years, the 2012 university committee and senior class officers worked together to recruit a successful individual to address seniors at graduation. And like most years, the year-long build up and dramatic reveal of the honored individual only ended in a brow-raising “who?”   

Enlisting Carol Bartz, a UW alumna of 1971 and former CEO of Yahoo! and Autodesk, to speak at this year’s graduation further proved the university committee’s yearly trend of recruiting a rich, former UW students with the capacity to make a generous donation rather than a sought after and recognizable figure capable of generating some buzz. But most importantly, the committee did what they continue to do every year: not allow payment for a speaker.

Unlike most globally competitive, world-renowned institutions, UW-Madison refuses to chase top tier speakers because they come with a price tag—leaving the university and senior class officers to choose from UW alumni or local individuals who must be willing to produce, practice and memorize a lengthy speech as well as present that speech four times over the course of two days … for free.

Needless to say, the pickings are slim. Every year students are left sitting in their $35 cap and gowns listening to people like the Morgridges, prominent UW donors, instead of individuals with a bit more wind under their wings. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t expect the university to hunt down celebrities like Steven Colbert, although that would be awesome, to speak a few words of wisdom to a group of soon-to-be UW alum. We do, however, think it’s high time the university committee shakes things up.

Bringing in a widely recognized speaker has the power to ignite some excitement among the graduating class, their families and students as a whole at the university. It shows the rest of the Big Ten community that UW-Madison truly is a globally competitive research university and can act like it. But to do this, the UW needs to start paying its speakers so it can follow its own mantra and recruit the best of the best.

That said, we want to applaud this year’s senior class officers for recognizing the need to bring in a world-class speaker by starting the UW’s first ever speaker fund. Creating an all-graduate event called Senior Day, the officers used the fund to finance world-renowned science orator Neil deGrasse Tyson’s visit to the event Thursday, May 10. Named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007, Tyson is the type of individual this board wants to see linked with the university and its grads. If the university committee can’t acknowledge this, at least our student officers can.

Until then, we believe Senior Day is a commendable attempt at further bringing prestige to the UW; one that will remind the committee how important it is to change its orthodox policies and compensate notable speakers at such a notable event. While we understand the committee’s devotion to recruiting individuals connected with the university for graduation, commencement isn’t just about the UW. It’s about inspiring the UW’s graduates to make something of their degree and explore the world. This board would like to hear from people who have actually seen and made a difference in it.

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