UAA commencement speaker: Big-shot celebrity or motivated student?

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Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee and Matt Damon are just a few of the big-name celebrities who have been commencement speakers this year. Many colleges pay thousands of dollars to get these people to speak at their graduation. UAA does not follow this type of commencement-style. UAA has an open invitation for graduating seniors to have the chance to be the commencement speaker.

According to the Boston Globe, three schools in Massachusetts paid $25,000 to $35,000 for their commencement speaker. That’s more than a year’s tuition for a UAA graduating student.

For UAA, a student is selected by the Student Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee, who is appointed by the dean of students. The committee consists of two faculty members and three graduating students not applying for the honor. The student speaker has the opportunity to reflect on the last few years and motivate the students for the future. Not just anyone can apply. To be eligible, students must be graduating in the semester of application. They must be enrolled in at least three credits at UAA and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 at the time of application.

The committee meets the applicants and listens to their speeches and each committee member scores them individually. Then they come together to review each applicant’s strengths and challenges than from there, their recommendation is submitted to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Bruce Schultz, who makes the final decision.

For the 2016 Fall commencement ceremony, Sophie Leshan, an early childhood education major, was chosen by the committee to lead the commencement ceremony.

There are a lot mixed feelings about commencement for many students.

“I think for a lot of students they are excited about commencement, but they’re not real sure what’s this whole thing going to be. ‘I’m doing this for my family.’ ‘I’m not sure I really want to but my mom wants me to go,’ so there’s that group. Then there’s students that are just like, ‘Yay, I’m so excited,’ but I think in the back of a lot of peoples’ mind is, ‘Is this going to take forever?’” Annie Route, director of Student Life and Leadership, said.

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Some students are disappointed in the fact that UAA doesn’t try to bring a celebrity or successful person to speak.

“I could care less what a fellow student has to say, but I’m not surprised that UAA didn’t reach out and bring someone cool or inspiring,” Anthony Picasso, who is graduating with a degree in criminal justice with a minor in anthropology, said.

On the other hand, many students believe having a student speaker is better than having a famous actor or celebrity.

“I feel like using a student rather than some big shot is a great idea. They went through our journey or they are going through it so it makes it more meaningful. Everyone is also very excited about graduation in the first place so I personally wouldn’t be concerned about who is going to be speaking at the commencement. I’m just excited to graduate,” Crystal Goeth said, who is graduating with a degree in small business administration.

Graduation is a special time for students and their loved ones to reflect on their academic success. Regardless of who the speaker is, as long as they are able to instill a sense of purpose and achievement, the commencement can be a lasting memory for every graduate.

The commencement ceremony will be held on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 1 p.m. at the Alaska Airlines Center.