Most Commencements to Forego Student Speakers

Only three of UC Irvine’s nine undergraduate schools will have student speakers at their June commencement ceremonies this year.
The School of Humanities, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and the School of Social Sciences will have one or two members of their respective graduating student bodies speak during commencement ceremonies. Comparatively, no students are scheduled to speak at the combined graduation ceremony for the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences and the School of Physical Sciences. The Paul Merage School of Business, which has never had a student speaker at commencement, will continue its tradition of giving time to a keynote speaker and other traditions, as will the School of Biological Sciences.
The School of Social Ecology will radically break from tradition, by not having a student speaker for the first time in years. According to Camellia Wang, social ecology director of Student Services, only two social ecology students applied to speak at one of the two social ecology commencements and no student applied for the other commencement.
“There has been a remarkable decline in students’ interest in speaking at graduation,” Wang said.
Wang noted that in the past there have been at least 10-20 students who apply each year. The two applicants were informed of the school’s decision to not have a student speaker after they had applied. Wang said that just two applications was not a large enough sample from which to draw.
Cutting the length of the ceremony was also a consideration when the School of Social Ecology decided to not have student speakers this year. Last year, each student speaker at each of the two social ecology commencement ceremonies was given a total of five minutes to speak. One speaker ended up talking for nine minutes, while the other finished at the 11-minute mark.
Student Affairs Communication Director Leslie Millerd Rogers said that the pattern of having student speakers is generally unpredictable at UCI.
“The only thing that is consistent about the history [of student speakers] is the inconsistency,” Rogers said.
Each school makes its own decision about the presence of a student speaker and each year a school may change its decision. With the exception of a couple colleges, it is common to have a student speaker at a commencement fluctuate from year to year. One of the biggest concerns for schools is keeping the ceremony at a comfortable length for everyone. Most UCI undergraduate ceremonies last between an hour to an hour and a half.
Political science major Matt Olszewski will be graduating from the School of Social Sciences this year, and he does not have a strong preference regarding the presence of a student commencement speaker.
“If [having a student speaker] is a tradition, then I don’t mind either way if they keep it. If we had someone who was very well-known or an alumnus who actually did something inspiring with his or her degree, then I would probably rather hear them speak than one of my peers,” Olszewski said.
On the contrary, Rosa Noyola, a fourth-year English and political science double-major feels that being a commencement speaker is an honorable opportunity that should always be available to students.
“If a student has worked hard for four years and has met the requirements to finish school, then [he or she] should be able to have the opportunity to speak at graduation, or at least be able to see a fellow student speak for the graduating class,” Noyola said.
Robin Jeffers, director of student affairs for the undergraduate engineering program, believes that having a student speaker for graduation is an important part of the engineering school’s ceremonies, which have previously included a student speaker.
“It’s meaningful for both students and parents to hear the experiences of the student and about his or her time at UCI,” Jeffers said, “It’s important for the students to have a voice at their own graduation.”
Student commencement speaker rules differ from campus to campus in the UC system. At UCLA, each undergraduate school chooses student speakers who are expected to keep their speeches at a maximum of five minutes. Each department also has the discretion to permit a separate graduation ceremony, which may or may not include a student speaker. All six of UC San Diego’s undergraduate schools will include a student speaker this year and each ceremony is expected to run about two hours and 15 minutes.