The 2010 Commencement speaker will be an Ithaca College alumni or faculty member instead of a guest speaker, according to an Intercom announcement by President Tom Rochon and a work group created to bring more of an academic focus to the event.
Deborah Mohlenhoff, assistant director of community service and leadership development and a member of the work group, said the group decided to choose a faculty member or alumni to bring more of an academic focus to Commencement and to reduce the expense to the college.
“Commencement is one of the largest costs for the institution,” she said. “We always try to work with a reasonable amount of money, and our definition of reasonable in the past is not matching anymore to what [outside speakers] are asking.”
Speakers in past years have included former executive director of Amnesty International USA William Schultz, politician Bill Bradley and astronaut Jim Lovell.
Senior Randi Baron said she and her friends were disappointed when she read the announcement about a possible faculty member as the Commencement speaker.
“We paid thousands of dollars, and we’ve listened to [faculty] for the past four years,” she said. “It’s like hearing something from your parents or your boss. I was looking forward to someone who would give a different take on [advice for the future].”
Syracuse University, Binghamton University and SUNY-Cortland have never had a faculty member speak. They have had alumni and guest speakers, according to the public relations offices of each school.
Brian McAree, vice president of student affairs and campus life and chair of the work group, said Commencement is no exception to the budget cuts being made across campus. Last year, they chose not to provide students with medallions. This year it’s the speaker who is being cut.
“Feedback we received was that students really appreciated the medallions,” he said. “[We will] offset those expenses by taking a different look at the Commencement speaker.”
McAree declined to disclose the budget for the speaker. But senior Chris Lee, student trustee and a member of the work group, said on average the speaker costs $70,000. The medallions, which were cut last year but are being brought back, cost almost half of what the speaker does.
Lee said the medallions the college can choose from range from $15 to $30 each. He said if they choose the $30 one, then it would cost about $30,000.
Senior Nate Loucks said he would not have minded that the speaker plans changed if the students were consulted first.
“The fact that we are finding out about this six months before we graduate, with no prior knowledge of anything — not a question about how you would feel about it, not a vote, nothing democratic from the student body — really irked me,” he said. “I know it irked a lot of my friends at school.”
Senior Kylie Burnside, president of the senior class, said the speaker’s message is going to be great no matter who the speaker is. Burnside said the work group did ask her and the senior class executive board’s opinion.
“An uplifting message is an uplifting message,” she said. “If the message is good at Commencement, then it doesn’t matter if they have a huge name. I feel that if we do have alumni, and if they went and did something really meaningful, I think they could advise us better than anyone else could.”
Burnside said she hasn’t received much negative feedback about the decision.
“I don’t even know if everybody has heard about it already,” she said. “We tried to get the message out to everyone the best we can — we sent it out through our listserve and Intercom”
In addition to the change in the speaker, the work group decided to have sustainable caps and gowns. Burnside said she is not sure how the cap and gown will be sustainable but they will probably be made out of melted recycled plastics.
Lee said the decision to have sustainable caps and gowns was made to go along with the college’s “green” mission.
“It will send a great statement that we do care about sustainability and that our class chose to do this,” he said.
Mohlenhoff said the work group is still in the process of choosing a speaker and does not know when the speaker will be announced. She said she feels the change in speaker is a good decision because the college has many people who are successful in their field.
“Why do we need to go to the outside world to find someone when we have some pretty great talent here that can send a pretty nice message?” she said.