Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Problem With Politicians

I've written each of the last two years about why the convocation committee should not choose a politician as the keynote speaker.

By most accounts, David Plouffe, who never graduated from college, gave a weak speech last year.

And this year, Nancy Pelosi was just miserable.

She gave a rambling speech, the first part of which was an attempt to establish her credible connections to Cornell (and "Tompkin County"), and the second part of which was the typical Democratic stump speech disguised in the context of the need for science education and research. Her inspiring personal story was a self-deprecating anecdote about why she ran for Congress: her teenage daughter wanted her out of the house. When Pelosi ended by telling the graduates that we always had a friend in the speaker's office, it was clear that this was one of those lines which she delivers to every college. Indeed, a look at Pelosi's recent address to lowly Mills College in Oakland, Calif., indicates that her speech today was not original.

With 20-something people on the convocation committee, you'd think they could have come up with a more sincere, engaging, and thoughtful convocation speaker. (At least now they can all brag that they were "instrumental" in bringing Pelosi to campus.)

Why not one of Cornell's famous alumni, someone whose Cornell "cred" does not require 10 minutes of rambling to establish? If you want a government figure, why not Ginsburg? What about someone internal? Is Charles Walcott still alive? He's a great speaker. Ted Lowi spoke at my ceremony this afternoon; he would have been more enjoyable to listen to. I'm sure there are professors, authors, philanthropists, physicians, and musicians who could all give an excellent address.

Why the obsession with the big name? Look smaller, and look better.

Next year provides another opportunity to move away from the political mold.

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