Commencement speaker selection at UD

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Fresh UD graduates of the class of 2016 throw their graduation caps into the air after the ceremony on the Mall. Photo courtesy of University of Dallas Alumni.

Commencement at the University of Dallas is incredibly special. Outgoing seniors witness their time at school flash before their eyes as they receive the diploma that they worked for tirelessly. As at any university, they are given the opportunity to kick back and listen to parting words of wisdom from both a professional and student speaker.

The process of choosing the student speaker at UD falls mainly on the shoulders of Student Government. This is their main role, as the process of choosing the actual commencement speaker falls to the Office of the President.

Across the nation, there has been a growing emphasis on a collaboration between the seniors, student governments, and their administrations. For example, at Manhattanville College in New York, the process begins in the fall with discussions between student government and administrators to procure a list of potential speakers. A list of six to eight speakers are then circulated around the graduating class, and they help the administration narrow the names down.

UD has a similar process for the choosing of our speaker.

The President’s Office — in cooperation with the provost — is responsible for the process of selecting a graduation speaker,” Dr. John Plotts, executive vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said in an email. “As you can imagine, the invitations must often go out months, sometimes years, in advance to obtain a speaker. Typically, the president seeks feedback on potential speakers from various constituent groups before making the selection.”

Alumni, faculty/staff, students, donors, and Board of Trustee members are the main groups that provide input on a commencement speaker,” Plotts said.  

“The president does not survey the entire population of these groups, of course, but he does speak to various individuals in these groups.  It is a consultative process not a consensus process.  Past consultations have yielded a strong slate of potential speakers from which the president has drawn, so the extent of the consultation that is done on a yearly basis may vary.”

The provost is also involved in the process of choosing a speaker. Plotts stated in the email that our newly appointed provost, Dr. Jonathan Sanford, “will be closely engaged with the president in the selection of future speakers.” This is a prospect that I am very excited for, as Sanford is beloved by Students and Alumni alike, and his choices are likely to reflect the preferences of those groups.

The process is long and arduous. And in short, according to Plotts, “In the end, the president extends the offer to the speaker he believes is best suited for that given year.”

Although the process may not involve the student body as heavily as some would like, I believe that this is still an excellent system for an institution such as UD. What I find exceptional is how the process expands beyond the input of students and administration to alumni and donors as well. This assists in the spirit of tradition and continuity that drives UD.

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