My name is Jared Lewis. I am a black senior graduating from the George Washington University, and I applied to the Student Speaker Commencement Competition. I did not make it to the 2nd round. I find issue with this because there was no articulation that there even was a 1st and 2nd round. I also find issue because in the 20 years that there has been a competition, there has only ever been one person of African descent to speak. There has never been a lone speaker of African descent. There has never been a male of African descent. There has never been an undergraduate female of black descent. The process is obviously skewed and unfavorable to a particular student profile profile. This is underscored by the actual selection process, whereas, the university makes a conscious choice as to who it wants to represent the institution on the mall; that person has never been a single African American individual. My speech can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wBJzSEdK78&context=C48e5fdeADvjVQa1PpcFOaSfd1iAtlFjQLM902RA6KZHi91m3gbrk= .
Kathryn Bugg, Executive director of Student Events which oversees the student speaker competition said that “We want the student speaker to connect with other graduates in the audience…They’ll be talking to a diverse group—there are 20,000 guests on the Mall. We always look for students who can serve as the model of the GW experience. Strong delivery and strong content are both important, and we’ll look for a speaker whose personality can translate over both TV and webcast to the audience.”
The problem with this statement is that the selection process is contrived and though Ms. Bugg’s articulation implies the selection process is democratic, participants of the selection committee have described the process as contrived where only one or two people actually make the decision.
1. Before the committee selection phase, there is a pre-selection process in which individuals, not known to committee members, determine who should go to the next step in the process
2. Multiple accounts of the selection process cite the process as being non-democratic and based on university preferences as opposed to speaking ability.
a. Selection based on university preferences and not speaking ability is contrary to the implied democratic selection process and additionally means that university administration selects speakers who inherently do not represent the whole student body or cannot speak to the experiences of its diverse student body.
b. The selection process as described is a lie. It is a false articulation of a contrived process. As a result, it is not an equal opportunity selection process, and is inherently discriminatory; the process values one student profile over others. ‘
3. This petition is advocating for 2 changes in this process:
a. The process should be open, public and available for student scrutiny
b. The 2012 Commencement and all subsequent commencements should give The Multicultural Student Services Center, Hillel and other university sanctioned cultural institutions their OWN selection process. ALL GROUPS SHOULD BE REPRESENTED ON THEIR GRADUATION DAY.
Letter of Inquiry
Upon conducting research, I came
across a prior article published by GW that read:
“We want the student speaker to
connect with other graduates in the audience,” Ms. Bugg said. “They’ll be
talking to a diverse group—there are 20,000 guests on the Mall. We always look
for students who can serve as the model of the GW experience. Strong delivery
and strong content are both important, and we’ll look for a speaker whose
personality can translate over both TV and webcast to the audience.”
I believe this to be an important
objective when selecting someone to represent students during the commencement
competition. However, in my research, I have yet to locate a student an
undergraduate student speaker that has ever been of African American descent.
The only variation is a Doctorate student in 2008 (Christine Hangey), note,
however, this was not an undergraduate and did not encapsulate the experience
that I will shortly be describing.
As a black male I think it
absolutely prudent that I be represented on the national mall on commencement
day, just like everyone else. While I recognize that MSSC has a graduation ceremony
that emphasizes the achievement of students of color, I would assert that to in
any way imply that a separate ceremony produces an equal experience is
fundamentally, legally and scientifically flawed.
I, in the interest of full
disclosure, applied to be a speaker, and was not selected. I am in no way
claiming that I am somehow more qualified than anyone else that applied, but
that in the 20 years that GW has been conducting ceremonies on the national
mall, there was not ONE African American male, graduating from an undergraduate
college qualified to participate in the ceremony (please correct me if this is
factually correct, I can only use research that is publically available)?
I applied to the competition in an
attempt to rectify this. I wanted to be what would seemingly be the first black
male to speak during this syndicated national mall ceremony and to make my
family proud. Somehow, though, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that such an
opportunity wasn’t going to be available to me anyway.
I am in no way claiming that there
is overt racism in the selection process, but that the non-visible selection
process and lack of a minority representation that I am describing in past
selections , even though the selection process has a stated mission to select a
student speaker who is able to talk to “a diverse group,” is creating an
image all too familiar to young black males. None of the speakers that I
have found “serve as a model of the GW experience”…at least not the
experience I’ve had. I am an undergraduate minority who fought for my place
here at GW after being denied as a high school senior applicant. I served this
university multiple times before I chose instead to serve the outside community
that needed actual help, rather than the service fluff this school tends to
propagate. Moreover, I am from a middle to low middle class family and
was not able to afford things such as studying abroad; I could hardly pay my
tuition on time (an experience of EVERY black student I’ve befriended, who has
not had a full scholarship). I came from a 99.8% black underperforming high
school in urban Chicago, and simply put, none of the commencement speakers
wholly or in part have represented my brand of diversity.
I am disappointed. And I feel as
though there is little probability anyone will do anything about it.
My hope is that from this letter,
administration will consider amending its student speaker selection process.
Perhaps, there is no need. Perhaps the school has selected a minority student
this year that does represent this type of diversity. Probably, the school has
I would recommend that you give the
MSSC its own student selection. If not for this year, certainly in future
years. While they participate in the selection process, it is my understanding
that they were not even aware that there was a pre-selection process. This only
underscores my point.
History of Student Commencement
I would greatly appreciate a follow
up to this inquiry.
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