Freshman Convocation is a tradition that dates back a little over six years. The first Convocation speaker was Greg Mortenson, a resident of Bozeman and graduate of the University of South Dakota who became famous for his humanitarian efforts — building schools and promoting literacy in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan — which he details in his book, “Three Cups of Tea.” He then became famous again, when “60 Minutes” ran a segment about how large portions of the book were fabricated and many of the schools he had claimed to have built had either yet to be built or been built and abandoned. Of course, at the time, MSU did not know that Greg Mortenson was lying about the contents of his book and misusing donor’s money. Our School’s intentions were good but it seems our administration unwittingly made a mistake. The stated goal of MSU for Convocation is to “help the new students to reach their goal of becoming the graduating class of 2017.” The obvious way to do this would be to take successful MSU graduates and give them a chance to tell incoming students how their education helped them in their careers. Instead, we have whoever will get name recognition. At the time of the first Convocation, Greg Mortenson was enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame and now Yann Martel is enjoying his.
I mean no offense to Mr. Martel — his speech at Convocation earned a standing ovation from the crowd — but one wonders whether or not freshmen walked away with any newfound pride for their university which seems content in celebrating people who did not graduate from MSU above those who have.
Being a freshman last year, I was completely disenchanted with college after attending Convocation and hearing Condoleezza Rice speak, not just because her book was terrible. Rice served as the Secretary of State, a professor at Stanford University and an alumna of the University of Denver. What she did not do is attend MSU. [pullquote align=”right”]What does it say when only one of the seven Convocation speakers to date has graduated from MSU? [/pullquote]What does it say when only one of the seven Convocation speakers to date has graduated from MSU? Are we trying to tell students that no one becomes successful enough with an education here to speak at their own school’s year-opening ceremony? It may lower Convocation’s high profile to stop inviting celebrities and only invite successful alumni, but it would certainly help encourage freshmen to succeed academically more than inviting authors who are currently famous.
Right now, Convocation is a poorly thought out but well-intentioned tradition. Speakers are chosen based on their personal fame, not their ability to help incoming freshman. At the moment all I can think it is worrisome these are the people chosen to tell freshmen why Montana State University is a great place to go to school.