Students can post commencement speaker suggestions on Web
Anyone can be Syracuse University’s 2004 commencement speaker, but the only way for people to get who they want is to make a suggestion.
A committee of students, faculty and staff appointed by Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw recommended last fall that the best process to select the commencement speaker included an online suggestion Web site. This site would garner input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, allowing them the opportunity to actively take part in who will address the giant Dome crowd at commencement, said Mary Jane Nathan, interim director of alumni relations.
Chancellor Shaw approved the process and it immediately went into effect, resulting in Bill Clinton as last year’s speaker, Nathan said. The Web site had recorded about 400 hits.
The selection process for the 2004 commencement begins with this year’s suggestion Web site.
‘It’s a great idea because commencement is supposed to be about the culmination of our education, so the person we have to speak should represent what our years here are all about,’ said Montana Whiteley, a junior television, radio and film major.
Whiteley, who had never heard of the Web site before, said that she would visit it soon and suggest late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien.
Any person may suggest potential speakers online until Sept. 24 at http://www.syr.edu/calendars/commencement. The 2004 Commencement Speaker Committee will receive the list of suggestions at a meeting with the chancellor in early October, Nathan said.
‘The list won’t be ranked; it will be purely suggestions,’ Nathan added.
The two senior class marshals chair the committee, which also comprises the student marshals from the university’s 11 schools and colleges and the three undergraduate and graduate student representatives to the Syracuse University Board of Trustees, Nathan said.
The committee will talk with others to gather even more suggestions and opinions. Then, in a second meeting with the chancellor, the committee will whittle the list down to about 15 names and give it to the chancellor for his final selection, Nathan said.
‘And he always tries to get someone on the students’ list,’ Nathan said.
Shaw will make the decision based on availability, appropriateness and affordability.
‘There’s no way of telling who will say ‘yes’ or who will say ‘no,” Nathan said. ‘If we’re lucky, we’re generally able to get who we want.’
John Frei III, who graduated last year with a degree in information studies and technology and television, radio and film, was the marshal for the School of Information Studies and served on last year’s selection committee. He said that he likened the committee to the United Nations because leaders from each college and the class met together, in one room, to debate the candidates.
‘If you try for an outrageous celebrity, you most likely won’t get him,’ Frei said. ‘And there’s only so much money you can spend.’
The first choice for last year’s speaker was Conan O’Brien, but he was either too expensive or unavailable, Frei said.
One of the committee’s considerations was that the speaker not be too controversial, as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spoke at the 2002 commencement, stirred up mixed reactions from the SU community, Frei said.
‘It was tough, ’cause that made it a bit skewed,’ Frei said. ‘But it was an experiment; no one had done [it] this way before. It’s a democratic process; everybody has their vote, and it’s hard to argue with that.’
The university decided to begin the selection process this fall because many speakers need to plan their schedules months in advance and may take several weeks to respond and make a final commitment.
‘The later we wait, the harder it is to get who we want,’ Nathan said. ‘It can be a lengthy process, and we need to start early.’
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