That fall, Bill Cosby, Board of Trustees member, alumnus and longtime university advocate, held his second annual “Cosby 101” event, during which he lectured to incoming Temple students on life, the city and education.
There he promised the graduating Class of 2008 – my class – he would speak at our commencement. As a freshman, I thought this would be the greatest thing in the world and looked forward to continuing in the Temple tradition of having Cosby speak at my graduation.
But, of course, a lot can change in four years.
Cosby is not scheduled to speak at the 2008 commencement, as reported last week by The Temple News [“Graduation speaker announced,” Alex Irwin, April 14, 2008].
He hasn’t spoken at a Temple graduation event since 2004.
Since then, he has appeared only sporadically at Temple, such as when he addressed the track and field team in early 2007 and a handful of teach-ins for the college of education. Even the very “Cosby 101” event that was promoted as a yearly occurrence hasn’t taken place since 2004.
In the past, the university has claimed it is Cosby’s schedule that precludes him from coming back to North Broad.
Cosby has indeed been busy, but he’s had time to fit in lots of graduation speeches.
He has spoken at Spellman College, Dillard University and the University of Connecticut since 2004, according to the Chicago Tribune.
He also spoke at the May 2007 graduation ceremony held by High Point University in High Point, N.C., as reported by The Temple News [“Cosby to speak at 2007 High Point grad,” Alex Irwin, Sept. 5, 2006].
In April 2006, Stuart Sullivan, then the university’s vice president for development and alumni affairs, suggested Cosby was distancing himself from Temple, [“Celebrity support wanes,” Megan Kelsey, April 25, 2006]. Sullivan said the university wanted Cosby to be the lone alumni commencement speaker – a tradition.
Well, it’s been broken.
This year, Floyd W. Alston, a local business leader and 1970 graduate, is the featured university-wide speaker. Calls to Cosby and his publicist were not returned regarding this matter, and the university has no official position.
Regardless, what can be gathered is that, like other aspects of Temple, our commencement tradition may be at the end of an era.
Last May, President Ann Weaver Hart asked a committee to examine the process used to select commencement speakers, encouraging more focus on a student speaker, highlighted by last year’s address from Jameel Rush, a 2007 graduate who grew up in Temple’s shadow, came here and excelled [“N. Philadelphia native to speak at graduation,” Leigh Zaleski, May 1, 2007].
Although the Class of 2008 may not have the pleasure of partaking in the longtime Temple tradition of hearing from one of this country’s great 20th-century icons, the most important tradition we have witnessed at Temple is the tradition of change. The knowledge that what was there yesterday can be improved by tomorrow, and that we can carry that ambition for positive action long after graduation.
Sean Blanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.