Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

CUA students criticize commencement pick

Some students at Catholic University are complaining about the choice for speaker at the May 15 commencement: Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, the school's president.

O'Connell, in his 12th year as CUA president, announced last fall that he would step down in August.


Recognizing the departing president at commencement is "all well and good," writes Nicholas Prichard, a Catholic senior, in an e-mail. But Prichard suggests it may be too much of a good thing: O'Connell is already amply represented on the day's program: "he gives the homily at the graduation mass and the president's address during graduation itself," Prichard writes.

A Facebook group has organized under the banner Students for a Different CUA Commencement Speaker, with 96 members.

The group states:

While we recognize that this is Father O'Connell's last year as President of the university, we do not think he should be the keynote speaker. We do want him to speak at our commencement, we merely wish that he is not the "commencement speaker".em>

A second Facebook group, with 129 members, also opposes the president's selection as speaker:

As members of the graduating class of 2010, we deserve a unique commencement address, delivered by an individual who can offer exceptional words of wisdom, inspiration and advice.

An online petition has garnered 58 signatures.

The irony here is that O'Connell apparently agreed to speak in response to an earlier Facebook group, Fr. O'Connell for Commencement Address 2010, with 157 members.

Their pitch:

Fr. O'Connell has led the Catholic University for 12 years, he knows the students, cares deeply about this university, and would give a great speech. What better send off than by asking him to address the class of 2010. It would be an excellent opportunity for both the class of 2010 and the president to finish their careers at CUA.

Here is a response from Victor Nakas, a spokesman for the university, who replied by e-mail:

"There will always be some dissatisfaction with the choice of a Commencement speaker, no matter who that person is. In the celebrity-obsessed age in which we live, many want a celebrity. Others want someone with gravitas, still others want someone who reflects their political or ideological view.

"The practice at Catholic University for decades has been that the president of the university selects the Commencement speaker. That practice was followed in this case. The difference this time around is that the students themselves formed a Facebook page to advocate for Father O'Connell being the Commencement speaker. It's safe to say that if there had not been grass roots sentiment from the students themselves, he would not have taken this step, even taking into consideration the fact that this will be his last Commencement. Fr. O'Connell himself anticipated some negative reaction and told me that he was not wedded to the idea of giving the Commencement speech himself. He clearly does not want to create an unpleasant situation for the students on their graduation day. He is a reasonable person, open to others' opinions and sentiments. It should also be noted that he has received some very positive feedback about being Commencement speaker. But I can guarantee that, no matter who speaks, some people will complain."

Please follow College Inc. all day, every day at

And for all our college news, campus reports and admissions advice, please see our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Daniel de Vise  |  March 2, 2010; 10:01 AM ET
Categories:  Administration , Online  | Tags: Catholic University of America, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, commencement speakers, graduation, student protest  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Report: Md., Va., D.C. slow on 'college readiness'
Next: Towson adjunct fired for racial epithet

No comments have been posted to this entry.

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company