Almost exactly ten years ago I graduated from Furman University, a smallish liberal arts school here in Greenville. Our commencement speaker was the President… of the school. Today, Furman’s 2008 graduates will hear a commencement speech from the President… of the United States. A bit of an upgrade I’d say.
Now, I’m not being partisan at all about this. If you can get the sitting President of the United States to your campus for commencement, you just do it. The exposure and publicity it brings are priceless, and it lends a certain level of credibility or seriousness to your school. So, in 1998, if we could have had Bill Clinton, that would have been great. Heck, there were rumors that we had a shot at getting Jimmy Carter that year, and that would have been good too. These are just things you do if you can, and the speeches are certainly more interesting and memorable. (I mean, nobody really wants to listen to a speech at any graduation…. so it’s good if it has a little pizazz to it.)
Naturally, the school has been awash in controversy over the visit. Much of the faculty is in a general foment, they have censured the school president for not checking with them, and many have now been excused from the ceremony as conscientious objectors. All of this, of course, only adds to the story and the potential publicity, which is a good thing. And it also makes it all a bit more interesting and memorable for those graduates.
Update: Here’s the story of Bush’s visit.