If words are the measure of a man, then former President Bill Clinton can only be described as just right. Giving the commencement address on Saturday at the Big House, Clinton tapped into his uncanny ability to reach in and pull out exactly what is needed, leaving graduates, parents and guests thoroughly satisfied even with his rather generic message.
But that is precisely what made Clinton the perfect commencement speaker – he’s someone we all know, but more importantly, he’s someone who can effortlessly awe and inspire, even at the culmination of a college career when graduates are convinced they have seen and heard everything. Reminding us that “it is not enough to vote and pay taxes,” that “we cannot kill, jail or occupy everyone” and sprinkling in astute comments on previous speakers, Clinton’s address was topical and largely well received.
Perfection is hard to duplicate, but for the University, the only option is to try. As great a choice as Clinton was for this year’s graduating class, it does nothing for subsequent classes, who all deserve the same satisfaction that this year’s class felt on Saturday afternoon.
After a string of adequate but obscure commencement speakers, the University finally got on base last year with CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. Now, after this year’s homerun, the University cannot take an at-bat off; the graduates deserve better.
Consistency can be difficult in the fickle pursuit of an effective but also recognizable commencement speaker. The process is long, as is the list of viable competitors, but the University has proven in the past couple of years that it can get the job done. While anyone who follows Clinton is likely to be seen as a disappointment, there are plenty of attractive candidates out there.
Whether the University goes after the likes of Jimmy Carter or JK Rowling, Oprah or the ghost of Lincoln himself, it is important to remember that the field of commendable candidates is large and the University’s resources are more than sufficient. University President Mary Sue Coleman said herself that she found this year’s class worthy enough to “show off to a president.”
The rest of us are no less worthy, President Coleman.