Celebrities, Commencement, Law Schools, Media and Journalism

Commencement Speakers (2013): Any Controversial Choices?

With finals underway and graduation just a few weeks ahead, law students are left with only two things to bitch and moan about: their job/debt situations, and their commencement speakers. Law school graduation is supposed to be a day that will forever be etched in people’s memories; they don’t want to remember that they were seething with rage or slumping their shoulders in disappointment. They just want to be happy.

But apparently the lawyers of the future are incapable of that emotion. In the past, soon-to-be law grads have gotten so pissy about their law school’s selection of speaker that they’ve written open letters, donned protest buttons, and even organized commencement walkouts.

We’ve heard from several of our readers regarding their schools’ speaker picks, and students from a certain high-ranking law school (but not T14, at least in our own rankings) are REALLY unhappy….

Before we get to the hubbub that’s going on, we’ll mention the commencement speakers that’ve already been announced at some of the most prestigious law schools in all the land (in alphabetical order):

  • Columbia: Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
  • Duke: U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli
  • Harvard: Jeffrey Toobin, legal journalist
  • NYU: David Boies, Chairman of Boies Schiller and Flexner
  • Michigan: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
  • Penn: Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT)
  • University of Texas: Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston)
  • UVA: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Yale: Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark (oops, he’s only speaking at the undergrad ceremony)

So let’s get to the juicy stuff: which law school is hosting a rather controversial speaker this year? It’s Georgetown, and students are incensed over the selection of Greta Van Susteren. The Fox News personality graduated from GULC in 1979, received an LL.M. from the school in 1982, and will now earn an honorary degree from her alma mater. Van Susteren even served as an adjunct at the school from 1984 to 1999, but a tipster reports the reaction has been “mixed,” and that’s a polite way of putting it.

The school is refusing to confirm or deny Van Susteren’s appointment as commencement speaker, according to the Georgetown Law Weekly:

Greta Van Susteren

Neither Georgetown University nor Georgetown Law administration has publicly confirmed Van Susteren’s status as Commencement Speaker or status as honorary degree recipient. As of May 1, 2013, the Office of Dean of Students and Dean’s Office have both declined to comment. The Georgetown Law Office of Student Life (OSL) also declined to comment, except to note that OSL “does not have a hand in choosing the [Commencement] speaker.”

But how “mixed” was the overall student reaction? Here are some select quotes that were posted in the comments section of Van Susteren’s blog after she made the announcement there:

— “[W]ith all due respect, the majority of GULC 3Ls sincerely wish you would not be the commencement speaker. … please honor the wishes of the majority of graduating students and decline the invitation to be the commencement speaker.”

— “I am so disappointed that our administration decided to punish us by choosing you to be our commencement speaker. Seriously… what did we do to deserve this? I know I don’t HAVE to go… and I won’t. I’d rather eat dinner across from someone who chews their food with their mouth open. That is how much you disgust me.”

— “I can’t believe I went through three years of law school to be subjected to your speech during my graduation ceremony. I wish they had chosen someone with substance and integrity to impart wisdom to us.”

Well, it looks like the students are pleased as punch with their would-be graduation speaker. Note that one of the GULC 3Ls above mentioned that he won’t be attending the ceremony because of Van Susteren’s presence at the podium. If you’re so displeased with the choice of speaker, perhaps you ought to inform the law school administration that you plan on making a statement — with your feet. That’s right, Georgetown students, you don’t need to show up, but that’s… a bit silly, don’t you think?

Would you seriously deprive yourself of what’s supposed to be one of your proudest and most joyous experiences just because you’re unhappy with the speaker? For some of you, it may be a decision that you regret for the rest of your life (perhaps like your decision to go to law school in the first place).

Has your law school selected a “crappy” commencement speaker? Sound off in the comments.

Greta Van Susteren will be Georgetown Law’s 2013 Commencement Speaker [Georgetown Law Weekly]
Honorary degree and Commencement Speaker at Georgetown Law Center (this IS fun!) [GretaWire]

Earlier: Michigan Law Commencement Walkout
Cardozo Students Plan to Joust With Manhattan D.A. at Graduation

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