Maybe if we started ignoring the big-name speakers that universities pay to speak at commencements, the schools would start providing speakers who actually have a message to give to students setting out to make their mark on the world, and who aren’t making a buck to deliver it.
Instead, these choices are often part of the school’s marketing scheme. Pay some money, get a big name, get some free advertising in the form of news coverage.
Eric LeGrand wasn’t likely to get any news coverage, and that proved a problem for Rutgers University, which got the kind it didn’t want after dropping professional speech-giver Condoleezza Rice from podium.
So Rutgers invited LeGrand to speak. He was paralyzed while playing football for Rutgers in 2010, and he had a message that might actually benefit the students.
“I was just going to tell them my story, about the whole process,” LeGrand tells USA Today. “Starting in 2005, being recruited by Rutgers and what it meant to me to play here and go to school here. And then the way everybody supported me through my injury, I was just going to give inspirational words about how they should attack life. All the things I’ve learned so far. All the [graduates], they’re my age so I was going to try to [say] words they could remember, words that would inspire them to do great things in life.”
LeGrand isn’t going to give the speech now, however. Rutgers found out that another career politician — and one of Rice’s pals — was available to give the speech, so they told LeGrand “never mind,” and invited former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean to speak. He was also the chair of the 9/11 commission.
“I just didn’t know how to feel. I was hurt. They offered me this on Saturday and then they take it back on Monday. I was like, ‘Why?’” LeGrand said.
“LeGrand deserves better,” Newark Star Ledger columnist Steve Politi writes today. “Rutgers deserves better. No one in years has given back to that university community more than Eric LeGrand, the embodiment of that Scarlet R. And this is how they treat him?”