For graduating seniors, there will be some changes in this May’s commencement ceremony: the removal of the keynote speaker.
University President Gary Roberts said this decision was made to cut down on the long duration of graduation ceremonies, which has spanned to as much as three hours in recent years.
“One of the big chunks of time that was taken up, probably the largest chunk of time, other than the actual reading of the names, is the graduation speaker,” Roberts said. “So, I said, ‘Do we really need one?’ Everybody kind of looked at everybody else around the table, and said, ‘Well, no, not really.’”
According to Roberts, the university has considered many different options for shortening the ceremony, including separating colleges into different graduations. He said the university will look at these possibilities for future years to make it a more “expeditious and pleasant experience, rather than a painful marathon.”
Some students said they are upset they weren’t asked for input on the decision, but in general, students said they could see why this was changed.
“I’m for it,” senior English major Jenny Cundiff said. “My sister went here, and she graduated in ’08. I went to her graduation and it was so long. It was like four and a half hours long.”
However, Roberts said he didn’t want a simple decision to be mired by extensive deliberation.
“Given the fact that it’s not a real high priority issue, I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time soliciting student feedback on it,” Roberts said. “When something’s an important issue, I think we need to get feedback from all concerned, but when something is clearly the right thing to do, there’s really not a lot to be gained by spending a lot of time hashing it over.”
Chair of Commencement Nial Johnson, who has been chair since 1992, said not having a keynote speaker isn’t a change per se because there have been so many different ceremonies over the years. According to Johnson, the committee is just dedicated to making the ceremony a meaningful event for students graduating.
“My premise throughout my tenure has been to create a memorable event for the students graduating, but also for their parents and guests,” Johnson said. “It is the culmination of four or five years of hard work here on campus.”
Philosophy professor Bob Fuller said Bradley is committed to making sure each student has their name read, walks across the stage and shakes hands with the university president. Fuller said the primary focus should be the graduates and their experiences with their families.
According to Fuller, there has been many different commencement formats in the past. There have been years where there wasn’t a commencement speaker and some years when a professor filled that role.
The range of speakers has also been quite wide, from politicians to athletes to celebrities.
Fuller said some people like the idea of bringing celebrities to campus, but this does little to add to the families’ experiences in the long run. The families are there to remember their family member’s graduation, not any speaker.
Roberts said he isn’t opposed to making any additional changes to the ceremony if needed.
According to Johnson, the commencement committee strives to be open to differences and to provide a memorable experience for students every year.
“We always try to do something different or at least be aware of and willing to look at changes,” Johnson said.