Posts Tagged ‘Commencement’

As I’ve previously discussed, I don’t like honorary degrees, especially in the case of honorary Ph.D.s from non-Ph.D.-granting schools. They are even more problematic when given to dogs:

Doggie DegreeAlthough this dog reportedly sat through all of its owner’s classes as a service dog, simply being in the room does not mean that you are participating (or learning). Also, I wonder how this dog’s degree made the other honorary degree recipients feel!

Despite the ridiculousness of the situation, I do realize that the dog is cute in its cap and gown. I hereby deem him “Doggie Howser,” with all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities associated with that title.

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In addition to the stupidity of honorary degrees, another aspect of commencement and the events leading up to it that I despise is the practice of asking graduating seniors for money. During the president’s comments at commencement and both of the awards ceremonies I attended, he reminded students of the importance of “giving back” to their alma mater. (A similar parallel is the practice of asking faculty and staff to donate to a school’s yearly fundraising campaign.) I don’t care if these statements are gentle, joking, or desperate. They should not be made.

Beyond the fact that a (mythical) student paying full price would have just dropped upwards of $150,000 on a college education and the more realistic students who pay substantially less are typically financially strapped as it is, my view of comments like these is that they are much more likely to provoke bitterness among students and their parents than they are to highlight how important donations are to the school’s bottom line. My own approach would be to focus on giving students an exceptional college experience that they will look back on fondly, keep them connected to the college community after graduation through newsletters, alumni magazines, and social media, and wait a while before asking for money. Maybe the alumni newsletters and magazines can occasionally feature stories about the contributions of others to deliver the message that I watched my own school’s president deliver awkwardly on numerous occasions.

If we give students a positive experience and make them feel welcome and connected after graduation, they will want to donate. I’m sure that schools have data on when students start donating and how that is related to total donations over time, but I wonder how many people simply never donate because they were turned off by the force with which their alma mater asked for donations before they had even had a chance to get a job.

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At the end of every spring semester, along with final exams and class evaluations, is commencement. The purpose of commencement, as I see it, is to commend students on their accomplishments and send them into the world to do good things. As such, I get frustrated by the aspects of commencement that do not support these goals. Among the most ridiculous of these is the awarding of honorary degrees. At my school’s most recent commencement, the president stated that one of the purposes of honorary degrees is to show students what it is possible to accomplish, but they often seem more like an attempt by colleges and universities to align themselves with people who have done great things, as if this alignment will help with fundraising.

I have always thought that honorary degrees were somewhat ridiculous, but they seem even more ridiculous when given by a small liberal arts school. Why, I have wondered, does a school with no Ph.D. programs have the ability to give honorary doctorates in seemingly any area. And how do the recipients of these degrees feel about them? For those who already have Ph.D.s I assume they feel unnecessary, while for those without Ph.D.s it seems more likely to be a reminder of what they haven’t accomplished. Worst of all, when granting these degrees the president says that they are awarded with all of the associated rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Of course, an honorary degree provides one with no rights, privileges, or responsibilities. They are essentially academic masturbation, and nobody wants to see somebody masturbating at commencement!

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After appearing on conservative blogs and the Colbert Report, she shows up in a high school commencement address:

Via what is the what

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