‘Nova Fails Its Seniors: Senior’s Opinion on Commencement


Olivia Pasquale/ Villanovan Photography

Villanova announced Thursday that Jay Wright will be the commencement speaker for the class of 2022.

Jack Roberge, Editor Emeritus

Commencement speeches are opportunities to leave one final, lasting impact on the graduating class before its members leave to take part in bigger things. Four years of education are difficult to pack into a singular speech, but often, the purpose of the speech is bigger than that.

The goal may be to provide some levity at a point in the students’ lives that can be overwhelming and stressful, as Conan O’Brien’s did at Dartmouth in 2011. Or, the goal might be to provide advice that the graduates wouldn’t have heard inside the classroom, as David Foster Wallace delivered in his famous address to Kenyon College in 2005. Finally, the speaker themselves may hold such a position that they simply make the commencement feel all the more important by their very presence, as Jill Biden did for Villanova graduates in 2014 or James Earl Jones accomplished in 1996. 

Or, of course, a University could do away with all of that and simply let the students hear from no one at all. 

This last path is the one Villanova has elected to take. After four years of hard work, Villanova’s class of 2022 will become yet another Villanova class with no real commencement speaker. At a school with few traditions, the end of the era of commencement speakers feels disrespectful to seniors and their parents, all of whom deserve a well-earned moment of celebration and circumstance. 

Villanova has elected once again to have only internal speakers at the commencement ceremony, with a lineup that includes a current student, a current member of the faculty, and once again keynote speaker Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, Ph.D., more widely known as Father Peter. 

Senior Brendan Donoghue was surprised to hear the announcement. 

“Fr. Peter presides over the Welcome Mass, Family Weekend Mass, and the Baccalaureate Mass. He emails videos of himself singing Christmas carols over break,” Donoghue said. “Now he is going to be the featured speaker at graduation two years in a row?”

Senior Susannah McHugh expressed disappointment upon hearing the news.

“Students have no choice but to feel completely undervalued when the commencement speaker is a repeat speaker from some point in the past five years, let alone an internal school figure who regularly addresses the student community,” she said. “It’s highly disappointing as a senior to have this be your final experience before leaving.”

One of the primary reasons that was cited for the lack of an outside commencement speaker was the uncertainty of the pandemic. This is a good story, and after having collectively been through the pandemic, it’s one people sympathize with. 

Here’s the problem: it’s a pretty bad excuse when other schools in areas with much stricter COVID-19 protocols have real commencement speakers. In case you haven’t heard, Taylor Swift will speak to NYU graduates, and University of Delaware’s commencement address will be given by President Joe Biden. Villanova’s excuse gets even worse when, throughout the pandemic, the University was consistently one of the first institutions in the country to loosen its Covid mandates. 

We had a performer at Hoops Mania. We ended the mask mandate inside and outside of the classroom. We had a normal season of basketball with a packed Finneran Pavilion. Programming across campus was held as though we were fully back to normal, and that’s how students have felt. With all of that being true, the claim that the graduating class will not be honored with a commencement speaker because of pandemic related uncertainties is difficult to believe. 

Further, spinning this as though commencement is now about the graduates – evidently all of the other commencement ceremonies were not – is absurd. I find it difficult to believe that graduates and their parents are somehow going to forget who the people being honored are. If anything, graduates feel more honored when someone impressive delivers the commencement address.

It makes the event feel more important, and less like a high school commencement, where students hear from their school principal and the valedictorian – effectively what is occurring at this commencement. 

If Villanova wanted to make it about us and for us, I promise we would have preferred a commencement speaker. This news comes as a massive disappointment to a class that has worked through a pandemic for much of its collegiate experience and had hoped for a memorable ending to its time here. Having a commencement speaker is a tradition worth continuing and one that I sincerely hope that at least next year’s graduating class gets to see return. 

Here’s an idea: I’ve heard there’s a beloved member of campus who just retired, and he has some more free time these days. I promise we wouldn’t mind hearing from him.