Eric R. Richard '95
The Tech received a copy of the following letter addressed to President Charles M. Vest:
I wanted to take a moment to express my concerns over the current process used to select MIT's Commencement speaker. It seems to me that the recent choices for Commencement speaker indicate a flaw in this process, especially evident when one looks at the speakers for other schools during the same time - Colin Powell and Al Gore at Harvard, Hillary Rodham Clinton at Wellesely, and Bill Clinton at the University of Michigan.
Many months ago, many seniors - myself included - took time to think about who we would like to speak at Commencement this year. I think we are all smart enough to realize that not every school can get the president - and because of that, many students took time to set out criteria for the people they would like to hear as opposed to trying to pick out particular individuals who might be difficult to get to come and speak. A large number of these comments focused on finding someone who people have heard of as opposed to a cultural icon.
As I remember, the comments and suggestions made by my class on the poster in Lobby 7 indicated a pretty high level of discontent with the past speakers and selection process. Many of the suggestions offered on the Lobby 7 poster were well thought out and seemed to carry a lot of emotions behind them: Students were very clearly upset by the past trend and wanted a change.
Like many other seniors in my class, I became disillusioned with the whole process when I heard the announcement for this year's speaker. Who the heck is Hanna Gray? I certainly don't remember the name among the suggestions made on the Lobby 7 poster. Why did any of us take time to think through our suggestions if they were going to be ignored?
There is a growing feeling that the administration has a lack of regard for the opinions expressed by the students. And why not? Seriously, how many students have ever heard of the Aga Khan, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Hanna Gray, Walter Massey, or Virgilio Barco? More importantly, how many people recommended any one of them as the speaker?
I am not questioning the speaking ability of any of the above individuals. What I am questioning is how these particular speakers were chosen. While it might be self serving, most seniors see Commencement as "our day." It seems like this would be at least one day that the administration could listen to what we want and act as our agent to help us out making "our day" the best possible. Obviously, it is too late now for my class, but please think about this before the decisions come around for next year. Maybe with some work the Institute can top the Iacocca, Hewlett, Olsen, Giamatti, Tsongas streak that started 10 years ago.
Eric R. Richard '95