Who Shall We Choose as NEXT Year’s Commencement Speaker?

So the class of 2010 has gone forth into the world, and the Michael Oren issue is now moot. But we should immediately begin discussing next year’s commencement. Supposedly the administration considers nominations for commencement speaker from the class. I suggest we take them up on this, and come up with a few speakers we’d like to see.

I’ve put together a list of living people I wouldn’t mind having give the address for my class. I think we should have a little chat about them. Submit your own suggestions!

Germaine Greer
Harold Koh
Barbara Smith
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Robert Coover
Dave Andrews
Uri Gordon
Ed Sanders
Anthony Romero
Gore Vidal
bell hooks
Cornel West
John Barth
Janet Biehl
Duncan Kennedy
Slavoj Žižek
Angela Davis
Nadine Strossen
Pete Seeger
Tariq Ali
Mark Green
George Galloway

Of course, if we think the selection of Michael Oren means that we should be as extremely politically controversial as possible, we could lobby for Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, and Noam Chomsky.

But my personal absolute favorites from the list are Germaine Greer and Cornel West. I definitely want someone colorful and fiery. Anyway, we really need to get on this, or else the administration will give us someone insipid like George Stephanopoulos or Wolf Blitzer. Or maybe they’ll stick their finger in our eye again and bring Alan Dershowitz.


10 thoughts on “Who Shall We Choose as NEXT Year’s Commencement Speaker?”

  1. I don’t think a person should be disqualified by holding one or two controversial or even disquieting opinions. I think an important part of our growth depends on engaging with provocative thoughts, rather than ensuring that we are only exposed to what is Safe. My problem with Oren was not that he held opinions I disagreed with, but that I felt that his selection was a political gesture on the part of the administration. I think we should absolutely have someone whose words we will be debating for days.

    I also don’t think the selections are as ambitious as you think they are (although I did intentionally select a number of well-known people partially because I thought it would begin a discussion on what qualities we’d like). We’re a top-tier national university, and we’ve brought major figures to our campus before. And even very busy and important intellectuals do commencement addresses. Hooks, for example, gave a commencement address at Southwestern University, and so is surely not out of Brandeis’s reach, and Zizek has spoken at plenty of universities around the country and the rest of the world with far less distinguished academic pedigrees than our own.

  2. PS I realized the subtle hypocrisy in my response, in saying that no Greer/Vidal because they say controversial things, and then endorse Angela Davis. From a *purely personal* standpoint and *in an ideal world* I prefer her. 😉

  3. I love ‘Myra Breckinridge’ as much as the next person, but how about not Gore Vidal? He was an apologist for Polanski, and I believed he said thatoutcry against Polanski’s actions was motivated by ‘anti-semitism’.
    Similarly, Germaine Greer can be a riot, I love that she loves Morrissey and appeared on an episode of AbFab, but we could also easily charge her with transphobia. While transphobia amongst (radical) feminists seems to be an 80s thing, she continues her cis-genderism today, as we saw in the Caster Semenya controversy.
    Otherwise, I think this list is a bit ambitious, no? For example, Slavoj Zizek is, along with bell hooks, one of the foremost (public) intellectuals writing today, and perhaps *the* most preeminent thinker in both psychoanalysis and (post-)Marxism.
    Anyway, for arguments sake, I’ll say Angela Davis, because her being an alum was partly why I came to Brandeis, it would be a nice bookend to my time here. 🙂 And she’s an alum, and now a professor emeritus, what other sort of commitments could she possibly have? just kidding.

  4. Bill, I’m fully aware that his contributions to scholarship are dubious. But as I said, I want someone who will be a colorful and engaging speaker, not necessarily someone with the longest resume of respected publications. I agree that his autobiography was fairly terrible, and I’ve never really found any of his writings especially enlightening. But we’re looking for a different quality in a commencement speaker than we would in a Visiting Scholar. We’re looking for someone who can inspire students, and at this West is excellent. His speeches are what count here, and his speeches show exactly the qualities I’d like to see at commencement.

    West’s weakness as a scholar is that he has great ideas that he fails to flesh out properly, satisfying himself with mentioning the kernel of what could be an impressive theory and then leaving it at that. The same thing which proves irritating about his written works works to his advantage here, because we want him to dispense small pellets of wisdom for our graduating class in an engaging manner. We don’t want the spoken-word version of an article in an academic journal, we want a rousing and meaningful speech.

  5. I don’t know which, but a prominent business leader/CEO whose company does good by selling an honest product/service, as well as gives back to the community via philanthrophy

  6. Bernadine Dohrn came to Brandeis in maybe 2005 or so. Just as a regular speaker, not as commencement speaker. I remember there being some controversy surrounding her visit.

  7. nice thinking ahead.
    i have to admit i don’t know a majority of these people, but they sound interesting. i vote angela davis because i made a shirt with her face on it with FMLA for women’s history month, and then i could see if her face matches my rendition of her profile.

  8. I have fixed the links. I forgot the damned Http. Embarrassing.
    I might submit them to the administration, but I would rather do things a bit more democratically. Perhaps IP will conduct a campaign to solicit suggestions and do some class-wide polls to find out who people would like, then submit a Top 10 or so list to the administration to show a few choices that have significant student support, instead of just significant Nathan Robinson support.

  9. A very interesting list you’ve put together Mr. Robinson. I’m still going through them (your links are broken, by the way) but I like what I see so far. Will you be submitting this list to the administration?

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