Students will have to bear with Bair

By Nick Milano

On May 15, 2010, I will graduate from college, ending what has been a long 17 years of education. From learning the ABCs and one-two-threes as a kindergarten student to thinking analytically about different health care systems around the world, a lot has happened over that time period. To me, college education is not as big a deal as high school was, nor is it for my family: I’m not getting a party, I do not expect any gifts. College graduation is about being welcomed into the real world. Graduating from high school is about being welcomed into four years of partying. Still, as someone who has paid tuition for four years, I expect graduation to be a big deal, especially when my family will not be doing much else.

When I think of college graduation, I think of important speakers who come to give one last burst of inspiration; challenging me to do something real with my life other than just make money. So this year, the University of Massachusetts is sending me and about 4,200 other graduates off into the real world with the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Um. Word.

It will be a blast learning about banking practices – financial regulation is all the rage these days. But seriously, I understand that the University has forgone the typical commencement speaker, instead highlighting people with a connection to UMass. This can have its positives by showing us graduates that someone from UMass has gone on to accomplish some great things.

But the FDIC chairwoman?

Granted, there are many finance, accounting and management majors who might be fascinated about the United States banking system, but doesn’t that leave a lot of people left out to dry?

Now I do not want to suggest that Sheila Bair is going to come in and bore us with banking rule. She has been called the second most powerful woman in the world by Forbes and was a point person for helping prevent a crisis worse than the one we’re facing now. Still, the FDIC chairwoman does not really get the heart pumping. Plus, bankers and professors for the most part seem like pretty boring people. Unless it is fabulous Fabrice Tourre of Goldman Sachs – how can you not expect great things from someone who calls himself “Fabulous Fab?” – I would prefer to be looking forward to a speaker whom I know will definitely have a fascinating story to tell.

Even the other UMass schools outdo us. UMass Dartmouth is hosting José Ramos-Horta who is the president of East Timor. Few people know his story; East Timor descended into chaos after its fight for independence against Indonesia, but thanks to a strong United Nations peacekeeping force, the country is doing better. Ramos-Horta has even survived an assassination attempt that took place during a failed military coup. He has probably got some good stories.

UMass-Lowell invited National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell. While he might not seem like a source of inspiration, as a football fan, I would be intrigued by what he might have to say. UMass-Boston’s graduating class will hear from Victoria Reggie Kennedy. Her relationship with her late husband, Ted Kennedy, would also be fascinating to hear about. Even Mass Bay Community College has an impressive speaker in former Senate candidate Alan Khazei, who is best known for starting City Year and whose life has been about creating services to help others.

Since I have written this column, I fully expect Sheila Bair to come in and blow us all away. It happened at Boston University last year when BU students complained loudly about Congressman Mike Capuano as their commencement speaker, going as far as making Facebook groups in objection. He took his critics head-on saying, “The truth is, if this is the biggest disappointment of your life, you are the luckiest people in the world.” Students applauded and he went on to deliver a speech about doing more than just earning a living and living your life with your head down, unaware of the other people existing around you.

My point is not that Sheila Bair is going to bore us to death, but that when I think about college graduation, having the FDIC chairman is a little underwhelming. I hope I have jinxed myself and she keeps us entertained. For next year, the University should look far and wide for someone who will give the 2011 graduating class something to look forward to.

Nick Milano is a Collegian Columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]