Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Open Letter Expresses Ire at Ergen's Graduation Speech

A group of 10 alumni recently wrote a letter to Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch, objecting to this year's selection of Charles Ergen, DISH Network chairman and a graduate of the Schools of Business, to speak at commencement. The original letter can be found here, but we are also including it below so you can judge for yourself. Agree or disagree? You can also view Ergen's speech here.


Dear President Hatch,

As young alumni, we take great interest in following the progress of our alma mater, an institution of which we are extremely proud. The education we have received at Wake Forest has given us a broad base of knowledge, skills, insight, and values. In our lives and careers, the motto of Pro Humanitate enjoins us to direct our education for the betterment of others, of humanity writ large.

Thus, it is with great concern that we read Charlie Ergen’s remarks at the 2012 Commencement. Mr. Ergen, the chairman of DISH Network Corporation and EchoStar Communications Corporation, is now the third consecutive CEO to speak at Wake Forest’s Commencement. Rather than focus on the speech, which was riddled with clich├ęs and reductive statements, as well as addressed primarily to his graduating daughter, rather than the class of a thousand newly-minted alumni, we’d like to ask what our choice of commencement speaker reflects about Wake Forest as an institution.

We are a university that treasures the liberal arts. Every Wake Forest graduate completes a series of divisional requirements in the arts, humanities, sciences, and languages. This fundamental education produces young adults capable of discoursing intelligently on a variety of topics, speaking languages well enough to comprehend their literatures, interacting with people from disciplines vastly different from their own, and sustaining intellectual curiosity long after their undergraduate years are done. Mr. Ergen quips that most graduates “will never read another book after today.” These are not words to live by, and certainly not words to graduate by.

In its ideal form, a liberal arts education nurtures students who will one day become writers, policy-makers, doctors, musicians, artists, leaders, and thinkers. It encourages us to be Renaissance men and women, to change the world through our thoughts and actions. One of the avenues to pursue this change is through business, but this is surely not the only path available to liberal arts graduates, and surely not the only measure of success.

We ask that Wake Forest invite Commencement speakers who promote such values. Where are the journalists and educators, the politicians and diplomats, scientists and actors? In the past, Wake Forest has invited speakers such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and novelist Tom Clancy, the cartoonist Garry Trudeau and New York Times columnist David Brooks. We should aspire for such diversity in our Commencement speakers, for diversity of opinion and background is the very core of a stimulating college experience.

It is true that Wake Forest has a successful Business School – this does not mean that all of our commencement speakers should be tailored to that audience. Three CEOs in succession simply excludes a large proportion of the student body, and sends a clarion message that the other disciplines represented on the Wake Forest campus are not entitled to a voice at graduation, the most important symbolic day on the academic calendar.

President Hatch, we ask you to consider creating a committee to elect and invite a Commencement speaker – a committee that includes students, faculty, and administration from different fields. We ask that Wake Forest strive for speakers who speak, not just to a small portion of the campus, but to all the students and family who have gathered on the Quad for this meaningful day. We ask for diversity of opinion to be cherished at our alma mater, and for this diversity to be reflected in our commencement speakers.

Yours truly,
Lakshmi Krishnan (’06 Carswell Scholar, English and German)
Blake Brandes (’06 Graylyn Scholar, English and French)
Jennifer Harris (’04 Graylyn Scholar, Economics and Political Science)
Stowe Nelson (’08, Carswell Scholar, English)
Kezia McKeague (’05, Reynolds Scholar, Political Science and Spanish)
Valerie Brender (’06, Economics)
Jennifer Barker Lyday (’06, Carswell Scholar, Political Science and Spanish)
Joe Martinez (’06, Communication)
Amy Currie (’05, Psychology)
William Rothwell (’08, Reynolds Scholar, Biology)

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