Fong took the invitation to give his final goodbye in front of more than 800 seniors and their families as an honor.
“I’m complimented by having an opportunity to be the speaker for this class,” Fong said.
Senior integrated communications major Julie Woodward said the news of Fong as commencement speaker came as a shock because he was not listed on a survey sent out to the senior class at the beginning of the year.
“We took a vote at the beginning of the year, and he was definitely not one of the choices,” she said. “Then, all of a sudden, they decided without our opinion to have Fong speak.”
A nominating committee took the senior survey into account but also created a list of potential speakers they wanted to invite.
“There was an awkwardness this year because it turned out that one of the nominees was myself,” Fong said. “But it is very hard to say no to an invitation to be a commencement speaker.”
Senior chemistry major Sam Minnette said she wouldn’t want to see anyone else as the keynote speaker.
“I wouldn’t know whom else I would like to see up there talking to us,” she said. “He has earned the right.”
Woodward said she has a different opinion.
“I feel like whoever made the decision took the easy way out in deciding who our speaker is,” she said. “I understand that this is his last year, but I have heard him speak many times before.”
Senior art administration major Sydney Schulz agreed.
“I expected something inspiring and new,” she said. “We’ve heard what Fong has to say.”
Having Fong as a speaker takes away the opportunity for an exchange of new ideas and thoughts, senior elementary education major Kim Spartz said.
“The seniors have worked extremely hard over the last four years and deserve encouraging words from someone distinguished from outside of the ‘Butler Bubble’ who will bring refreshing ideas and a plethora of experiences to the table,” she said.
Spartz said she feels like Fong’s keynote speech will take attention away from the graduating class.
“I feel personally offended that the decision was made for the students,” she said. “This ceremony is for celebrating their accomplishments and not to highlight the president’s departure.”
Even though Spartz is disappointed with the decision to have Fong speak as the keynote speaker, she values him as a university president.
“I feel that we are honored to have a very visible and knowledgeable university president,” she said. “It is disappointing to see him move on to another university.”
Fong said he is honored to be the keynote speaker for another reason.
Fong will be awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from Butler at the May 14 ceremony, which will take place in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“It’s a way for me, in a sense, to graduate with the graduating class as I go out as well,” Fong said.