Commencement speaker on minds of students, administration

It may still be the middle of first semester, but students and the administration are already looking ahead to commencement.

Determining a commencement speaker is not a simple process—cost, connections and nominations all come into play.

Butler University’s Board of Trustees takes nominations and then decides who is worthy of and eligible for an honorary degree. That recipient also serves as the commencement speaker.

Anyone from the Butler community can nominate someone to receive an honorary degree, and class officers have a chance to nominate as a group.

The Board considers whether a person charges a fee, if he or she has a connection to Butler and if he or she lives the Butler Way. The university does not pay speakers for their appearance.

Senior class president Chris Beaman said that while the requirements make it more difficult to seek high-profile people, the university should not offer money to prospective commencement speakers.

“I think it is important for a school our size and for a school of our stature to say that an honorary degree from Butler is much more meaningful than a dollar amount we could give,” he said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson said these specifications keep the focus on the university’s mission and help to build its reputation.

“The criteria assist us in positioning and bringing back into the fold people who have the institution at their heart and a strong desire to give back and assist us,” he said.

Beaman said that while class officers’ nomination holds some sway, he would like at least one student to serve on the committee that decides who receives an honorary degree and the privilege to speak.

He said that while past senior class officers were fine with former President Bobby Fong speaking last year, they wished they had  had more interaction with the committee.

“They had no chance to talk to the committee about why they nominated that person or why it would be special to have them speak at commencement,” Beaman said.

Johnson said it can be difficult to consider all nominees, but the Board has always tried to accommodate students’ suggestions.

“Their nominations and recommendations are taken very seriously,” he said.

Senior class officer Ashley Merryman said that while the selection committee includes many voices, seniors should be included more.

“I definitely think that graduating students should have an input on their commencement speaker, as they are the ones who will take away the most meaning from the graduation experience,” she said.

Merryman and senior biology and chemistry major Deanna Proimos both said they nominated former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy.

Proimos said no matter who it is, the speaker should appeal to the entire class.

“I would want a commencement speaker who is a well-rounded person, so the speech’s message will touch the majority of our class,” she said. “The speaker should be able to relate to us in some way and give us guidance and words of wisdom for our future journeys.”

Anyone from Butler can nominate an individual to receive an honorary degree by Nov. 1.

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