Editorial: Cardin appropriate for commencement

By Staff Editorial

Not every school can snag the president to speak at commencement, and we’re okay with… Not every school can snag the president to speak at commencement, and we’re okay with that.

Last week, Pitt announced that Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., will speak at Pitt’s commencement ceremony on May 1.

Some students on campus admittedly didn’t know who Cardin was,, and others proved unenthused.

We admit that even we initially found Pitt’s selection to be lackluster — likely influenced by our disappointment in last year’s speech delivered by John Swanson as well as our knowledge of the big bucks other universities shell out for big-name speakers. Rutgers University in New Jersey, for example, reeled in Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison with a check for $30,000, according to The New York Times.

But we ultimately think Cardin is an appropriate choice for this year’s commencement, especially because of student discontent with looming budget cuts almost certain to impact Pitt’s tuition.

In addition, we’re glad the University doesn’t shell out cash for celebrity speakers. Pitt spokeswoman Amanda Ritchie said the University does not customarily pay fees to its commencement speakers.

“Most individuals invited to serve in that role consider the opportunity to deliver our commencement and to receive an honorary degree to be a privilege,” Ritchie said in an e-mail. “Typically, then, the only expenses connected with a speaker’s appearance are the reimbursement of normal travel fees, and even they are sometimes waived.”

Penn State also doesn’t customarily write checks for its commencement speakers, PSU spokeswoman Jill Shockey said.

As a tradition, Temple University doesn’t enlist speakers for graduation, although honorary degrees are presented during the commencement ceremony, Temple spokeswoman Eryn Jelesiewicz said.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg selected Cardin from a list of potential speakers approved by the Special Committee for Honors Convocation and Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients, which is made up of 14 faculty members and senior administrators.

“The chancellor has demonstrated a clear preference for distinguished graduates of the University who have built lives of achievement and impact,” Ritchie said. In Nordenberg’s opinion, those with Pitt degrees are most able to inspire current graduates and to demonstrate the “power of a Pitt education,” she said.

Commencement Speaker Committee chair and associate chancellor Vijai Singh said, “The committee seeks to find individuals who embody the ideals of the University: high achievement, humanitarian commitment and a meaningful engagement in a life of purpose.”

In addition, candidates should have:

•attained eminence in the their field

•contributed to the development of their field and

•been recognized for innovation or valuable public service.

At a ceremony in which graduating students don’t even hear their names called, the University can’t afford to underestimate how much the commencement speaker impacts the quality of the event. We’re therefore sincerely glad to see that Pitt puts forth so much effort in choosing a speaker.

But even the most established alumni can fail to deliver words of wisdom to Pitt graduates.

So as long as they deliver a captivating speech, we don’t mind Pitt’s somewhat frugal habit of booking alumni to deliver the commencement address. All Cardin needs to do to impress us is refrain from talking about aliens. Really, what was that all about, Swanson?