OPINION | Commencement speakers deserve a stipend

College graduation is a big deal. It’s a huge deal. It’s a deal big enough that schools like Stanford University, Harvard University and the College of William and Mary have had commencement speakers such as Steve Jobs, J.K Rowling and Jon Stewart.

While Butler University is not Harvard or Stanford, it is unacceptable that the university doesn’t put forth more of an effort—or a check—to have influential people speak to graduates.

Butler does not pay, and the Board of Trustees now decides who can come to speak at Butler’s commencement based on eligibility to receive an honorary degree.

This is problematic because students don’t have much of a say as to who they would like to see as commencement speaker.

Although students can nominate someone for an honorary degree, it is ultimately the board’s decision.

“I wish a student or a couple of students served on the committee that decides the commencement speakers, especially senior class officers,”  senior class president Chris Beaman said in an interview with the Collegian.

Butler prefers to stick to commencement speakers who have a close tie to the university, such as the speaker having a family member who attends the university or if the speaker previously has worked for the university.

It is admirable that Butler wants to keep the close connections that it has made throughout the community, but after spending four years within the bubble, students should have someone from outside who can bring a fresh perspective instead of the same, tired speech about The Butler Way.

The issue with this system is the lack of compensation on Butler’s part. Although the university covers the cost of travel and lodging, it does not pay the speaker.
There also is a sentiment that a degree is worth more than money to our 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,” Beaman said.

While an honorary degree is quite prestigious, it is seemingly insulting of the university to offer nothing more to commencement speakers than a handshake and a diploma. Butler is not as large as the Ivy League universities who attract high-profile speakers, but the university should still offer a stipend to those who come to speak.

Even last year, the opportunity to have a fresh commencement speaker was shot down in favor of Butler’s outgoing president
Bobby Fong.

While Fong did a lot for Butler, it was unfair to students to hear the same speaker from freshman year at their graduation ceremony.

A commencement speaker should be someone who has attained success, is well-known, but can also impart a fresh perspective onto a crowd of terrified students who are being turned out into the professional world.

While Butler has to stay within its monetary limits when it comes to deciding upon a commencement speaker, university officials should still work to ensure that the quality of the speaker coming for graduation students isn’t suffering.


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