Dishonoring the Commencement Speaker

The Student Government Union (SGU), has lowered the academic excellence of this school by allowing a prestigious honor to fall by the way side.

Yes, the Saint Leo University is now allowing B- average students to speak at commencement, a honor that has traditionally been reserved for the student that exhibits not only academic excellence, but exemplifies the Core Values that Saint Leo University holds dear. Yet, with the passing and acceptance of Senate Resolution 2, the Commencement Committee, begrudgingly, has lowered the required speaker GPA to encompass those students who have a 3.0 or higher.

Traditionally, the top 5 percent of the graduating class has had a shot at being the speaker, but now that the standards are lowered, have we too given up on two of our Core Values, Excellence and Personal development? By allowing the standard of excellence to be lowered, SGU is saying that it is okay to skate by and do the bare minimum of what is required to graduate. Giving a student the option of being commencement speaker is an honor, not a privilege. It is a title that must be earned and deserved. It should not be rewarded to a student that, while the student might exhibit characteristics that the Core Values imply, Community and Respect, the student certainly has not applied the same level of dedication in school work or academic management. Yet, SGU would have you believe that such students who are actively involved in schools activities, such as Greek life, clubs, and societies, have enough substantial distinction to outweigh the student’s low GPA.  However, there are students well above the GPA required, who are just as actively involved, if not more. If anything, SGU and the Commencement Community should allow for self nomination within the 3.5 GPA bracket for commencement speaker, giving the students who are academically worthy a chance to vie for the prestigious title against other worthy candidates.

The head of the Commencement Committee, Associate Registrar Lora Lavery-Broda, had this to say about the process and history of what unfolded with the change in the requirements for commencement speaker:

“We started out with giving the requirement for GPA as a 3.5 average and that generated the resolution. When the resolution passed, we took it forward to our supervisor who said to get a committee vote. The vote included the selection committee, as well as the campus committee. The vote that resulted was very much in favor of not lowering the grade point average. So, at that point we were going to continue with our original direction; we were not going to lower it. We had two candidates’ names that were going to be sent to the senior class. At the last minute, one person withdrew their name, which left us with one person for the senior class to vote on. Again, we went back to our supervisor and we were instructed to go out with an email and ask anyone who is interested to self-nominate and that is how we actually got people who were less than 3.5 GPA.”

So, it falls onto the students to understand that while the new Senate Resolution 2 has passed, it will have little to no effect on how the students gain the academic honor of commencement speaker. However, the standards of excellence seem to have dropped far lower than what should be acceptable for a private university. Saint Thomas University in Miami Gardens, a private Catholic university, requires that the students have a 3.90-4.00in order to be considered for commencement speaker. In the past at Saint Leo the valedictorian had been the speaker at commencement, but the students felt that they had no say in their speaker and thus, the vote was initiated by the commencement committee to allow for the student to have more say over who their speaker at commencement will be. However, since that time, the candidates who are voted on to become commencement speaker, while initially selected by the Commencement Committee, seem to be elected to the position of commencement speaker out of popularity. It seems as though, even if you are a great academic student, you have little to no chance at being commencement speaker if you are not popular enough. Universities and colleges around the state are becoming more competitive these days, and the standards that a university puts on its commencement speaker says a lot about the academic expectations of its students. With the debacle that occurred with this year’s commencement speaker, it is safe to say that the Commencement Committee should look into reverting the commencement speaker back to the valedictorian, bringing back the honor and prestige of academic excellence to the title commencement speaker.

On an end note, I want the students to understand that the honor that is usually reserved for the best of the best in the graduating class is now being given to students who may or may not be achieving the level of excellence that is usually required for a commencement speaker. By lowering the standards for this time honored tradition, we are lowering our expectations of academic excellence. By doing so, we are giving the public the wrong impression of what Saint Leo University embodies, which should be Excellence, Saint Leo’s first Core Value.

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