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Empty Podium

Graduation, or commencement, should be a celebration in every sense of the word. Is it bittersweet? Yes. But it’s our crowning achievement, our imagined raison d’etre — climbing that stage, getting that diploma, tossing our graduation caps in the air. It’s what gets us through those all-nighters at the Glenn G. Bartle Library, the waves of work that submerge us semester after semester.

But we’re missing one crucial part of this most important of events: a commencement speaker. That’s not to say we don’t have one at all — though, for this winter’s commencement, we appear to literally not have one — but to say that our speakers have been, at best, lackluster. The biggest name we’ve had in recent years is Billy Baldwin. Now, as much as we love him in such classics as “The Squid and the Whale,” “The Craigslist Killer” TV movie and “His Brother’s Shadow” (get it?), he’s not exactly someone people will flock to see. Neither is one of last year’s commencement speakers, the guy who wrote the “Trust the Midas Touch” jingle.

Really, it shouldn’t be too much to ask of Binghamton. We deserve a good speaker. Not Will Ferrell or Kurt Vonnegut or anything — though Malcolm Gladwell would be awesome — but someone who thinks that public education in New York is important and who is important to students here. How about Governor Cuomo, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, author Judy Blume or hey, one of the Clintons?

Plus, WE’RE IN NEW YORK! There’s no shortage of names, from notable authors to public figures (ahem, Clintons), who should care about the crown jewel of the New York state education system.

Binghamton University is a school to be proud of. We’re proud of going to it; why aren’t the representatives of this state proud of it, too? We’re not just a “Public Ivy” or the best school in the SUNY system. We are, to quote the Times, “one of the most prestigious public institutions in the Northeast.”

Maybe it’s lack of initiative on the school’s part; maybe it’s simply that mayors and senators have better things to do. But really, if the latter’s the case, they’re misplacing their priorities. From the low cost to the employability of its graduates, particularly those from the business school, there are many parts of this school worth drawing attention to. Instead, we’re sequestered into a geographical and public isolation, left out of politicians’ speeches and tours.

This school is on its way up. With campus renovations and climbing rankings, Binghamton should by all means be a highly respected public university. But crucial to academic prestige is self-recognition. We need to recognize that we’re great, and capitalize on that by inviting real people to give commencement speeches here. While some would perhaps laugh off the offer, surely it can’t be impossible to land one — just one — great speaker (cough cough, Clintons). That’s all it takes: If we’re seen as a school worthy of one good speaker, more will follow.

As ultimately unimportant as commencement may be — yes, it’s the image you hold in your head prior to graduation, but what is it more than a tediously long process and a chance for your parents to kvell over you? — it is symbolic nonetheless. It is symbolic to the students, and it is symbolic to outsiders, too: potential students, professors and benefactors. Above all, it’s a step, if a small one, toward making us into the school we should be.