UAA values student speakers at commencement

Costs of famous commencement speakers. Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Schools across the nation are paying more and more to hire public figures to give commencement speeches. From Katie Couric to Matthew McConaughey, schools are paying thousands of dollars to bring famous people to their school to give a speech for commencement while UAA is putting an emphasis on student speakers.

Schools use the public figure’s presence as an investment into the school’s reputation. Many of the speakers will receive honorary degrees as well as a large paycheck, sometimes over $200,000

Jerry Seinfield charges over $200,000 per commencement address, according to Schools are paying speakers more than a years worth of tuition to make a less-than 20 minutes appearance.

Some students may see the investment as a status symbol while others couldn’t care less about who speaks at their graduation.

“I don’t really care. It would depend if it was someone I liked, but it would be a waste of money,” Nicholas Jackson, a biology student graduating this spring at UAA, said.

UAA has never brought up a famous speaker and has relied on a chosen student commencement speaker for decades. However, the exact time this tradition began is unknown.

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“To the best of my knowledge it has always been a student. I can say with confidence that it’s more than 20 years that we’ve had a student commencement speaker,” Bruce Schultz, vice chancellor for UAA Student Affairs, said.

With fees starting in the thousands and included travel costs for big speakers, money is a huge factor in why UAA has never hosted a commencement speaker.

“I’d say quite frankly with budget issues that would less likely be something that UAA will do anytime soon,” Paula Fish, assistant director of Student Life Leadership, said.

Another reason UAA has stayed away from hiring commencement speakers is the added time to the overall commencement ceremony. The student speakers are limited to a six minute speech, while a national speaker can go on for over 25 minutes. Schultz adds that hiring a speaker would add a considerable amount of time to the ceremony.

Despite the fiscal situation and the time constraint the university, students and staff, see the student speaker as a better representation to their time at UAA than a national speaker.

“We’ve had those discussions before and the overall feedback from the student body is that at commencement it’s really about the students and having one of them represent the graduating class. The response of this has been very positive with that experience,” Schultz said.

The chance to speak at your college commencement is something not offered at many schools. To be chosen to speak at UAA’s commencement graduating seniors must fill out an application. After the application process, the Student Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee, who is appointed by the Dean of Students, is composed of two faculty and three graduating students that aren’t applying to be speakers. The committee evaluates each applicant on their involvement and academic success. After applicants have passed this evaluation they will be interviewed, and asked to deliver the intended commencement speech. After the committee conducts their interview and makes a decision the choice student is passed along to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs where they are officially chosen to have the honor of delivering the commencement speech.

“To be able to speak to the graduating class, in such a stage is a great opportunity and honor for our students,” Fish said.

UAA administrators see little change coming to this long held tradition.

“My perspective and what I’ve been told, there has not been a need or want for a general speaker,” Fish said.

For the spring 2016 commencement, graduating senior Jonathon Michael Taylor will be delivering the commencement speech.