2004 Commencement Speaker

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I am dismayed by the cold reception and so-called “outrage and disappointment” regarding the selection of Caroll Spinney as our 2004 commencement speaker.

First, a distinction must be made between Big Bird and Caroll Spinney. Big Bird is not speaking at our graduation, Caroll Spinney is. It makes a huge difference. The image of a yellow bird, giving a speech in cap and gown, is far from what the reality will be, but one that is continually being used by the media.

Secondly, I disagree with the implicit argument presented in Mordini’s column connecting tuition costs and the quality of our graduation speaker. It proposes that spending money on tuition entitles us to a “better” graduation speaker; this is not the case. Many other “big names” were certainly in the running for the honor, but Caroll Spinney was chosen by a committee of Villanova students, faculty and administrators – a committee that included Nestor Fernandez and Tim McGovern, our elected student representatives. Equating $112,000 with the “right to a ‘good’ graduation speaker” paints Villanova students as materialistic, close-minded, and demanding. Perhaps that is not too far off the mark.

Dartmouth invited Mr. Rogers to address the class in 2002; in 1996 Southampton college was addressed by Kermit the Frog (the puppet); the graduating class of Lake Forest College was addressed by Dr. Seuss in 1977. These choices are similarly “iconic to the pre-school class,” however I believe these choices have merit as they influenced the lives of so many students from our generation.

Perhaps we can take a lead from students at Emory University, where Spinney is scheduled to speak on May 6th. According to Emory’s student newspaper, Spinney has won four Emmy Awards, two gold records and two Grammy Awards for his work in “Sesame Street”…and the students understand and celebrate these accomplishments.

I have spoken to many students and parents who are ecstatic to hear the message of Caroll Spinney. As my friend said, “Big Bird has been invited into my home since I was three. I can’t believe some people are so upset about the man inside the suit being invited into our campus.” It’s unfortunate that the larger media has only focused on the “outrage of Villanova students.” Regardless of individual beliefs on the choice, hopefully we can make sure that Spinney receives a warm reception when he appears at the 2004 commencement.

Sincerely,John Reinhardt