Graduation falls between being a student under training and being let loose as a contributing member of society. This event is a marker of celebration and accomplishment.
On such an occasion, the commencement speech experience should be unique to the audience. The Baylor tradition is to have the president of the university speak to graduates. While university presidents are markedly great orators, students have opportunities to hear from them on multiple occasions. Instead, students would be best served having an alumnus commencement speaker.
Historically, students spoke at commencement ceremonies. According to Time Magazine, the tradition for nearly two centuries was for graduates to lead academic debates to showcase their acquired academic expertise and oratory skills. As public speaking became less emphasized in college curriculum, guest speakers increasingly took the stage. While guests were initially recruited from the university, the 21st century finds more celebrity speakers than ever before. Time attributes the changing face of commencement speakers to an increasing emphasis on occupation and growing admiration of public figures in American culture.
Just as other universities have adapted to their audience, Baylor should follow suit. An alumnus speaker, who is not too far removed from the undergraduate experience, would be able to directly relate to the audience. After all, graduating students are moments from becoming alumni themselves. In addition, alumni provide a particular type of motivation for students since their success might seem more attainable than someone who graduated from a different university.
Opening the position to several options allows students to have a say in their graduation experience. University Business reports that an increasing number of colleges are using student input to choose commencement speakers. Just as the university president selection process encouraged student feedback through individual input forms and internal listening sessions, something as simple as an emailed survey could allow students to share their preferences and vision for their commencement speaker.
There are numerous ways for students to scout out prospective alumni orators. The Baylor Alumni Network hosts over 1,200 events every year. Wikipedia has a working list of Baylor graduates, both living and dead, categorized by career field. Entrepreneurs Chip and Joanna Gaines, actress Angela Kinsey and senator Rand Paul are Baylor alumni.
The goal of a commencement speech is to place student’s recent academic triumph into the context of their future workplace or endeavors. Alumni represent students’ Baylor foundation and coming aspirations.