The Record announced the Commencement line-up today.

Let me beat David to the bunch in bitching about this one. I am sure this will be better than Grace Paley, the complete embarassment of a commencement speaker endured by my class, but this line-up of award winners and speakers is pretty questionable. I can understand sticking to an arts theme, although I think SOME variety would be nice. But, (a) why the intense and nearly unilateral focus on dance, probably the narrowest area of student, alumni, and indeed society-wide interest, among the arts; and (b) why not a Commencement and/or bacc. speaker anyone has ever heard of, or if going with unknowns, why not stick with someone from the enormous ranks of prominent Eph alums in the arts arena.

I suggested before on this site David Strathairn as a possible speaker — now perhaps he was asked and declined, so if anyone has an inside scoop, feel free to share it, but I think he would have engendered a lot more student and parent excitement: alum, well-known, timely, probably entertaining, in a politically relevant film, and with an interesting career arc tailor-made for a Commencement speech, and a career arc intimately tied with other Eph alums (Sayles and his wife). If going with an arts theme, why not expand beyond dance and invite one of the numerous art museum curators like Thomas Krens or Joseph Thompson? Both of them are affiliated with Williams, have achieved tremendous prominence in the arts, and have made a dramatic impact on our neighboring community via MassMoca and all it has accomplished? Or how about Stephen Sondheim (although I’m not sure he would come back) who would at least get parents excited, or Jason Howland who is just getting started in what I’m sure will be a very successful broadway career (based on the fantastic shows he wrote as a student), as it would be cool to honor a young alum in the arts? Or maybe someone outside the box, like Bill Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes creator (I admit my personal love for his work is coming into play in this suggestion) — again, I doubt he’d come to Williams as he is a bit of recluse, but you never know, and his commencement address at his alma mater Kenyon was one of the best I have ever read, despite echoing the usual themes in such a speech. It’s kind of sad that Williams brings in, in my view, fairly unprovocative / uninspiring degree recipients and speakers year after year, while staid old Harvard treats its undergrads to an awesome, hilarious speech by Ali G or the legendary Conan O’Brien speech during ITS class day. I don’t mean to demean the current group of award recipients, all of whom sound like wonderful, talented people worth celebrating, but shouldn’t Commencement and Bacc. day be focused on who STUDENTS want to hear speak, and on at least one or two award recipients who a majority of students have either heard of or will be particularly engaged by once they learn their life story?

I guess I’m still a little bitter at my embarassment at the speech my family endured during my graduation, which was one of the very, very few negative memories of Williams. I just wanted to say to my extended family who was there — no, this speaker selection is in no way representative of the rest of my four years! But I always wonder if that is what drove my cousin to choose Amherst … :).

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