Seniors disappointed with bicentennial commencement plans

Monday, March 27, 2017 - 7:42pm

University President Mark Schlissel speaks during the Winter Commencement at the Crisler Center in 2015.

University President Mark Schlissel speaks during the Winter Commencement at the Crisler Center in 2015. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

University of Michigan seniors have been expressing their dissatisfaction with the recent commencement announcement as there are no plans for a featured speaker. Many also believe the University is focusing too much on the bicentennial celebration instead of the graduating class of 2017.

The commencement speech will feature a multimedia project displaying current University faculty reading the words from previous speeches throughout the University’s history. Music, Theatre & Dance Prof. Malcolm Tulip, who is producing the exhibition, said the presentation will celebrate both the bicentennial and the current graduates.

“For years now, we have become used to seeing great speeches and events on video,” Tulip said in a University press release. “In the early days of the university this documentation did not exist or was lost. This project assembles a series of excerpts from significant speeches from the university’s past. In seven minutes, graduating students and their families will gain a sense of their place in the university and nation’s history.”

In the press release, Interim Provost Paul Courant said the bicentennial will not overshadow the students and their graduation.

“Graduation, as always, is principally about the academic achievements of the students who are graduating,” Courant said. “We are pleased and proud to honor them and their achievements.”

Despite Courant’s statement, seniors were frustrated with the speech presentation.

LSA Student Government President Julia Gips, an LSA senior, wrote she was disappointed when the plan was originally mentioned back in October. She said LSA SG sent out a survey last semester to gauge student opinions on the announcement, and found some apprehension regarding the plans.
 
"After polling 500 students (both seniors and younger), we found that 61% were upset that commencement wouldn't follow the traditional pattern of having a speaker," Gips wrote. "I sent this information to President Schlissel in November ... Unfortunately no changes were made to the original plan ... Ultimately, our big day is shaping up to be underwhelming."

LSA senior Nick Suárez echoed Gips and wrote in an email interview the current plan is very lackluster and doesn’t show a dedication from the University to its graduates.

“It was definitely a huge slap in the face to all the grads,” Suárez wrote. “The commencement speaker is really the only aspect of the whole event that many people even care about, so this is just another way the university shows its students how little it cares about us as individuals.”

Education senior Maggie Cowles wrote going from past commencement speakers such as former President Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg to a recap of other speeches seems like a self-indulgent move from the University.

“I feel like we've spent four years building up to this, to our graduation, and hearing about all of these amazing speakers in the past,” Cowles wrote. “I'm from Ann Arbor, so I remember the year Obama came. I remember being so excited about who my graduation speaker would be, and anticipating it … It just really feels like the university is trying so hard to promote itself that it’s not at all concerned about what students actually want to see in commencement.”

Suárez wrote the tuition bill students have paid over their four years at the University merits a new speech for graduation.

“Considering the amount of money paid and debt accrued by so many of us, to reach our culminating moment and not have something to look forward to with this event is disheartening honestly,” Suárez wrote.

Cowles added the University is prioritizing the bicentennial over its students, emphasizing she would be able to watch old footage of commencement speeches at home but her own graduation should be something new.

“Nobody wants to sit in the big house and watch a video clip of graduation addresses aimed at different years — we want our own speaker with … our own ceremony,” Cowles wrote. “It's taking away a huge part of graduation that, honestly, is the only part of the whole-school graduation I was looking forward to.”