Tuesday, May 26

Great Conclusions and Commencements

I was back in Boulder two weeks ago for my daughter's graduation from the University of Colorado. Then I hustled back to my post at the University of Wisconsin in time to finish up finals and send a big batch of 2009 undergraduates off to the graduation ceremony here in Madison. So I've got commencements on the brain, or perhaps, as today's entry will tell you, sadly NOT on the brain, for graduation here completely ignored the cerebral hemispheres.

I have to say that I'm really disappointed in my alma mater. Disappointed, because this huge university really didn't do nearly enough to send its hardworking graduates out with a sense of profound pride anchored in self-respect and a sense of commitment to the global community in which we all live. Graduation ceremonies are a big deal. This is why parents and grandparents fly all the way across continents to attend. We want to send our young people out into the world with grins on their faces, wings on their feet, love in their hearts, intelligence in their brains, and, yes, with diplomas in their hands.

And this is not done when one of the largest and arguably better public universities in the country brings in a baseball administrator to address the graduating class of 2009. In Boulder, they at least brought in someone who tries to add intelligence to our world, John Roberts of the CNN morning news show. But here in Madison, at one of the largest universities in the nation, we got Bud Selig. His speech was minimally literate, though I think it's safe to say that Obama has not called him up to ask for the name of his speechwriter. A great university should bring in someone great to celebrate and charge its graduates. Commencement is not an athletic affair; it is a celebration of academic accomplishment. Check out who some other universities brought in to pay tribute, to inspire and to congratulate their grads this year:

University of North Carolina: Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu
University of Portland: Author and environmental activist Paul Hawken (perhaps the best of the year's lot: Google it and read it for yourself)
Syracuse University: Vice President Joe Biden
Florida A&M: Former President Bill Clinton
Howard University Law School: Attorney General Eric Holder
Franklin & Marshall College: (What? Where IS it?) Former Secretary of State Colin Powell
Carnegie Mellon: Eric Schmidt (Google CEO)
New York University: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
University of California-Merced (that's right: Merced) First Lady Michelle Obama
and of course
Notre Dame: President Obama.

I mean, come on Wisconsin: Act like a real, grown-up school with real grown-up graduates. That, more than an alumnus who didn't even make the baseball team, will make these graduates loyal Badgers throughout their many-storied lives ahead. You should never settle for less before you try for more. Commencement should be the beginning of our graduates stepping up to the plate themselves, not cheering from the nosebleed section while they quaff another flat beer. A commencement speech should be worth every single graduate and every single parent and grandparent's full attention, worth each of them looking it up afterward on the internet to print up a copy for the scrapbook. Bud Selig's address? I had a heck of time finding it anywhere; apparently I wasn't the only one less than impressed with his wisdom and his eloquence.