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IDS Columnist - May 14, 1998

Graduation speaker off base
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Aaron Stevens
is a graduating senior studying computer information systems.

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Like most other graduating seniors, I attended Saturday's commencement ceremony with my friends and family. With everyone all decked out in academic attire (and many even wearing clean clothes underneath), the excitement of graduation filled every corner of Assembly Hall.

As usual, many people complained about the length of the ceremony and felt defeated when they learned that undergraduates did not get to 'walk' across anything at Indiana's graduation. Today, however, I'll focus my criticism on our esteemed commencement s peaker, Sylvia McNair.

Sylvia McNair earned her Master's degree from the IU School of Music in 1983. Since then, she has performed in the most famous classical venues, has recorded over 70 classical works, and has earned two prestigious Grammy awards. For all intents and purpos es, one would think she would make an outstanding commencement speaker with an exciting career history, which is certainly the life dream of many IU students.

While Ms. McNair was certainly well qualified and prestigious enough to address us, Indiana's Class of 1998 -- only Notre Dame students would have the chutzpa to argue about the appropriateness of their honorable commencement speaker -- I feel that her ad dress was tailored to the wrong audience, and her references to religious convictions were improper and gauche.

Let alone the fact that Ms. McNair, a performer by trade, performed her speech in front of us rather than speaking to us -- the folks who run Public Speaking S121 can lecture her all about extemporaneous speaking. Her tone was what one might expect from a guest on a television show directed toward kindergarten-aged children -- perhaps that's where she though she was scheduled to speak.

Ms. McNair's address focused on what she presumed was the one feeling all IU graduates were feeling at commencement, "scared." (The fellow behind me made a good crack when he noted the one thing most graduates were feeling: "hungover." But I digress.)

Scared? Scared of what, the real world? Maybe she was talking about her own feeling twenty years ago, or about a feeling held by some IU graduates (namely, in the performing arts), but she certainly was not addressing a feeling shared by the majority of h er audience. Fully one half of Ms. McNair's audience at the 10 a.m. ceremony were business school graduates. Who's scared of the real world? The vast majority of business graduates have had jobs lined up for months, or are continuing directly on to gradua te school. The only 'scare' we have is that the University will take more of our money before we get to leave, and that we'll leave here dead broke.

Many would argue that as a business graduate, I'm biased. And they're absolutely correct. But those who have taken any public speaking course know that a speaker must bear in mind to whom they are speaking. Despite Ms. McNair's speech being well performed , she delivered the wrong address for her audience.

Even worse than McNair's central theme being off canter was her concluding statement about how we -- the scared graduates -- should cope with our insecurities. McNair's advice was for us to turn to our faith, whether that be in "Yahweh, Buddha, or Jesus C hrist." Further, she related how her faith had helped her along through her own insecurities in life. While I will never condemn anyone for having strong religious beliefs, the commencement ceremony at IU -- a public, state-funded school -- is not the rig ht venue for that kind of preaching. (And last I checked, Jews -- or at least the ones I've met -- never call God "Yahweh." Then again, I doubt she checked her facts.)

The bottom line is Sylvia McNair's commencement address was, simply put, in poor taste. I was embarrassed and offended by her speech, not because of who she is -- the way our state snobs at Notre Dame took offense to having our Lt. Governor speak at their commencement last week -- but because of her insulting tone, poorly chosen theme, and improper religious remarks. I'll be the first to admit Ms. McNair's address was a step above last year's politician: at least she was not racially insensitive. Perhaps, for the sake of the future generations of IU's graduates, the University could proofread each year's commencement address, lest future graduates be embarrassed by it.

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HEADLINES

Thursday, May 14

Jonathan Greenburg : Indiana's 6th District faces unenviable choices

Jim Drew : A matter of opinion

Aaron Stevens : Graduation speaker off base

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Monday, May 4

Editorial: Raising low graduation rates

Urvaksh Karkaria: The trouble with technology

Laura Taflinger: A look back at IU

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Friday, May 1

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Urvaksh Kurkaria: A letter of apology

Laura Taflinger: Feminism in journalism

Mark Levenda: Realizing what's really important

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1998 Indiana Daily Student