Former Princeton president William Bowen *58.
Former Princeton president William Bowen *58.
AP Images/Clem Murray

Following tradition, President Eisgruber ’83 gave Princeton’s Commencement address; PAW’s coverage begins on page 14. But he was not the only Princeton alum to speak at a graduation ceremony this year.

Two alumni filled in for speakers who had been disinvited or who had pulled out after students objected to their selection: At Haverford College, former Princeton president William Bowen *58 replaced ex-Berkeley chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau (opposed because Berkeley police had used force during a 2011 protest), and former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean ’57 filled in at Rutgers for Condoleezza Rice (opposed because of actions and positions she took as national security advisor and secretary of state). The students didn’t exactly get a pat on the back from the replacement speakers. Bowen described the Haverford students’ approach as arrogant and immature, and Kean used the opportunity to lament the absence of true discussion of differing views.

They and other Princetonians not only had platforms, they had meaty things to say — things that sometimes were more discomforting than the follow-your-passion/do-good/be-nice advice new graduates usually hear. At Tufts, former Woodrow Wilson School dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 began by posing questions to the young men in the audience. “If you imagine yourself as a father, how will you adapt your career to accommodate caring for those you love? ... Will you be prepared to move if your wife gets a promotion? Will you be prepared to defer your own promotion, so that your husband can take his?” Then Slaughter turned to the women: “As you think about your careers, do not automatically assume that it is primarily up to you to balance career and family.”

New Yorker editor David Remnick ’81 addressed graduates at Syracuse, reprising the theme — communal responsibility — that he brought to Princeton in his Class Day speech last year. Lest the graduates think that racism was a thing of the past, Remnick reminded them of the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Sexism is dead? Check out the maleness of corporate boardrooms or the fact that women still don’t get paid as much as men, he said. The audience greeted much of his speech with applause, but there also were some boos.

Agree or disagree with their sentiments, but the alumni speakers sent graduates off with hard, real-world challenges to think about and act upon. Commence, they said.