Staff Editorial: Choice of commencement speaker raises questions about selection process

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And the winner is.. Peter Berg. And the automatic response to Macalester’s selection of this year’s commencement speaker is. Really? No, seriously. Really?

He is a B-list Hollywood writer, director, producer and sometimes actor, who has his name stamped on a series of lukewarm action flicks that go through one ear and out the other (remember 2007’s “Smokin’ Aces” or “Kingdom”)? Yeah. Point made.

He is also the director of the 2004 movie “Friday Night Lights,” which The New York Times dubbed “rousing and honest” and the follow-up critically acclaimed television series by the same name. He is also in the works to produce a new film with Charlize Theron and Will Smith this summer. But that really doesn’t change too much.

The question is: why does this matter, and how does any of this apply to Macalester’s mission of internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement?

It probably doesn’t. Last year, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, graced the stage. The year before that, journalist and former CNN anchor Aaron Brown spoke to the class of 2006. Both Edelman and Brown hold all the characteristics Macalester students might expect of a commencement speaker here and the administration and faculty expects of us.

We are taught to become politically and socially active in our communities and to directly engage with the world around us. Making it big in Hollywood never slipped into any of those orientation materials.

So why the sudden change of heart? President Rosenberg wrote in the April 1 College Relations press release that Berg “is a great example of the importance of theater and arts education at a liberal arts college.”

Perhaps, and maybe we shouldn’t judge the man prematurely. He is, after all, a Macalester alumnus (class of 1984), not to mention a former Mac Weekly staffer. But this is the graduating class of 2008’s commencement ceremony, not that of the Macalester administration.

And just as we griped last week about the college’s lack of transparency in selecting a senior student speaker, we have one more dead horse to beat. It’s too late now, but next year, consider this: how much harm could a poll do asking seniors what kind of commencement speaker they would prefer? Chances are, most people wouldn’t answer “relatively unknown Hollywood director/producer.” But we’ll never know until we try.

The opinions expressed above are those of The Mac Weekly, as determined by the staff. The perspectives are not representative of Macalester College.