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about a year ago
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Clearing Up Confusion about the Liberal Arts Graduation Speaker (Or Lack Thereof)

Smeal Graduation 2012

Yesterday, the list of this year’s commencement speakers was released. Each college will have their own ceremony, marked by a keynote speaker, typically a big name to deliver a message to the graduating class. Because Penn State doesn’t have one big ceremony for the whole school, they can’t get a speaker like President Barack Obama, like Ohio State did. But one curious item on the list popped up: the College of the Liberal Arts did not have a listed commencement speaker.

As a liberal arts student myself, I felt gypped at first. But Christopher Long, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in Liberal Arts, shed some light on the issue.

“The College of the Liberal Arts does have a commencement speaker: our student marshal, Lindsay Wells. Lindsay is a triple major in Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Art History, and Medieval Studies.

What we don’t have is a second commencement speaker from inside or outside the University. Although we have traditionally had two speakers, this year colleges were given the option not to have a non-student commencement speaker. We in the College of the Liberal Arts decided to give that a try this year in order to highlight our student marshal and to try to limit the length of the ceremony.”

Outside speakers have often been criticized for the quality of their speeches, as was the case last year. Highlighting a student as a speaker may well improve that quality, as one may not be able to rely on their name or prestige in lieu of a meaningful message.

Dean Long also added, “I believe we are the only College that still has a student speaker at commencement, and we decided that was the tradition to continue as it expresses well the student-centered spirit of the ceremony and of the approach to education we take in the College of the Liberal Arts.”

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