Friday, April 10, 2009

An Honor for Whom?

Arizona State has extended an invitation to President Barack Obama to be the commencement speaker this year. Presidents have always been popular choices for this role, and getting a sitting president to attend graduation ceremonies has always been considered a coup, even when the president has been less than vastly popular.

But this invitation presents perhaps the most ludicrous university commencement situation I've heard of in a long time. The university selects a commencement speaker, presumably, to offer the graduates sage advice from the vantage point of experience and achievement and offer some pithy counsel. What is perplexing is the reluctance to endow him with an honorary doctoral degree, with the pronouncement that “his body of work is yet to come,” implying he has accomplished nothing. So why invite him to speak?

Or, perhaps, they haven’t yet figured out that Obama has accomplished, aside from the highest office in the land. I suppose getting there doesn’t count to the people at Arizona State. Still, it might be argued that his work as a community organizer is worthy of being touted for students who usually do not consider doing anything for anybody.

Obama’s work in Illinois State government as well as in the Senate must also qualify as achievement. Adding his years teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago to that list illuminates how over the past twenty years he has kept himself busy. And for the most part doing work deserving recognition. Obviously his career is not finished and, if the first few months are any indication, there will be a great deal more to Obama’s attainments.

Yet if the university believes he has not yet been worthy of an honorary degree, he should not have been extended the honor of addressing the graduates. He is not the one to be embarrassed. The dunderheads at the university are sure to draw much derision from prospective students who may now opt out of Arizona State after this debacle.

They may reconsider their absurd position, which has been exposed in all its absurdity in the glare of public light.

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