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Editorial: Student input on commencement a must

Though graduation still seems a long way off for those of us who will be walking across the stage, our last day at VSU is right around the corner and approaching fast. VSU has already made an announcement about commencement that has flown under the radar: the commencement speaker.

If you go to the commencement webpage you’ll see, down at the bottom of the page, guest speaker Amy Carter’s name listed with a link to a page about her.

Many students may be unfamiliar with Carter. A VSU alumna and Valdosta resident, Carter resigned from her post in the Georgia General Assembly last year where she represented District 175. Just this week, she was named Deputy Commissioner for Rural Georgia at the Georgia Department of Economic Development. In addition to politics, Carter has had a long career in education, working as a teacher for 16 years at Lowndes County Highschool.

While her connection to VSU and her career are both notable in their own right, VSU students had no say in her invitation to speak at commencement.

College graduation can be one of the most rewarding days of a student’s life. This is especially true in Georgia where, according to the Georgia Higher Education Data Book, only 20 percent of our citizens have completed any bachelor’s degree program. As a result, VSU has gone through several different commencement ceremony setups over the last five or ten years.

Before undergraduate commencement was on the front lawn, graduates would file into the PE Complex to get their degrees—without a commencement speaker at all. After graduation was moved to VSU’s front lawn and commencement speakers were installed, former Interim President Dr. Cecil Staton began a two-step graduation process. This experiment saw graduates sit through two ceremonies, one convocation with their individual colleges and another commencement with the class at large. This setup proved unsuccessful with students, sparking a petition against the change with more than 1,000 signatures.

Now, VSU has gone back to the single-ceremony model on the front lawn, and they’ve given us commencement speakers like Gov. Nathan Deal in spring 2017. But, the student body has had almost no say. While other changes—the time, location and two-ceremony modification—were swept in on the heels student surveys, the commencement speaker has never been a choice.

We here at The Spectator would like to see this change. VSU students certainly have opinions about who they want their speaker to be, but these opinions have no place to be voiced. Even though some students’ dream speakers may be unattainable, a little input can go a long way in making students feel engaged in the process and with the university. This last relationship building block may be sorely needed as students prepare to leave their alma mater and take important impressions with them.

A simple quiz like the one used to determine the performer at the spring concert could go a long way in making students feel more involved. An SGA meeting devoted to picking the commencement speaker could also do the trick. Whatever the avenue, our editorial staff believes it is important that some transparency is added to the process, and students should demand it.

This editorial was written by a member of the editorial staff and expresses the general opinion of The Spectator.

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