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Without speech, graduation is just ‘ants on parade’

SoRelle Wyckoff

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A few weeks ago, my parents mailed me a book titled “What Now?” by Ann Patchett. Based on a commencement speech Patchett gave at Sarah Lawrence College, it’s addressed to graduating college students.

It’s a short read, no more than 90 pages, with big font and some pictures. And most importantly, the message is a source of comfort for those of us who are worried about, well, what now? I’m not going to give anything away, but the thesis is along the lines of: Everything is going to be okay.

And what a beautiful thing to hear at graduation. But at The University of Alabama, graduating students won’t hear that message. They won’t hear any message.

For the last five years, our university has deprived its students of a commencement speaker. They attribute the reason to “keep the attention on the students,” and timing, due to a growing amount of students.

As always with The University of Alabama, they reach for high numbers, and then when they get them in body count, they don’t know what to do with it. This causes a game of catch-up, rather than proper preparation.

I too, see the importance in allowing every student to walk across the stage to shake hands with the dean and president. But after sitting and waiting for hours, I would be more than willing to listen to a 10-minute speech; in fact, I’d be honored.

In 2007, the crowd booed the commencement speaker off the stage after he unfavorably mentioned the nation’s involvement in the Iraq war – which, while embarrassing, is unlikely to happen again. I think it’s safe to assume our student body has matured through its growth to a point where it can hold its tongues.

The options available for a commencement speaker at a university this large would be examples of admiration to many students. The chance to hear someone who represents the successes and happiness that can be achieved post-college is enlightening and exciting. Before 2008, students heard words of advice from renowned politicians, actors and business leaders. Surely their words were wise and applicable to the graduating body before them.

We are being denied this essential message. Our last lecture before we leave the safe haven of college into a far greater unknown has been stripped away for the “sake of the student.” That doesn’t make sense.

Our final experience at the University should be both symbolic and educational – the culminating point of a great achievement.

My hope for our school in the future is that they start to treat it as a place of education, rather than a business. Instead of focusing on the quantity, focus on the quality. Our commencement will be long, as there are many of us, but right now it is nothing more than ants on parade. Include one last life lesson from a place that has taught us so much already.

But for now, I will rely on read words from a small book: “Sometimes the best we can hope for is to be graceful and brave in all the faces of all the changes that will surely come.”

SoRelle Wyckoff is a senior majoring in history and journalism. Her column runs weekly on Mondays.


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Without speech, graduation is just ‘ants on parade’