Graduation needs a Wildkit, not Mayor Hagerty


Photo courtesy of Evanston Now.


Ahead of the June 3 graduation, Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty has been con- firmed by administration as the ceremony’s commencement speaker. Though a city official, Hagerty’s lack of affiliation with ETHS, inexperience in Evanston and disconnect with the greater Evanston community make him a poor choice to send off the newest class of Wildkit graduates.

ETHS graduation ceremonies have traditionally seen ETHS alumni of varying notoriety take the stage and speak about the Evanston community, the importance of an ETHS education and the realities of post-high school life. Recent speakers include best-selling author David Epstein, actor Zach Gilford and award-winning ETHS teacher and administrator Denise Martin. The remarks of these figures have all addressed one central question: what does it mean to be a Wildkit?

To answer this question, graduation speakers must come from the community or the school and carry with them a unique understanding of life in the halls of ETHS, an ability to speak to students from the perspective of students. Mayor Hagerty is born and raised in Massachusetts, educated in New York, and experienced in private business. He is not a former Evanston youth, student or faculty member. He is not a parent in District 65, despite the fact that he has school-aged children. He lacks the perspective needed to fully or accurately comment on the lives of our 800+ graduates. He cannot tell us what it means to be a Wildkit because, to put it frankly, he has never been one.

The decision is also questionable given Hagerty’s standing with the Evanston community. In last year’s elections, Hagerty and second place finisher Mark Tendam were separated by just over 100 votes, despite massive campaign spending from Hagerty. Hagerty is by no means popular throughout the city, and his short tenure as Mayor — marked by controversy over urban development, wage increases, and private enterprise within the city — has failed to establish a meaningful connection with ETHS and does not warrant his invitation to address a mass of public school students, most of whom are untouched by his private-sector work and many of whom are opposed to his early policies as mayor.

The selection of Hagerty becomes even more disagreeable when the process leading to the choice is examined. According to Student Representative Emma Stein, neither the Evanston Student Union nor the District School Board were consulted on the matter. Rather, the decision was left to non-elected administrative officials. This lack of reliance on student or community voice showcases a great flaw within the whole selection process. The Administration could have considered public opinion; they instead — behind seemingly closed doors — opted for the easy choice, a local face with already established ties to school leadership (and leadership alone).

For the Class of 2018 to get the most out of their final moments as Wildkits, it is imperative that they are spoken to from an Evanstonian perspective, from one that can specifically relate to their experiences within the community. Hagerty, though a mayor with legitimate concern for the well-being of Evanston, cannot lend such a perspective. The administration has failed ETHS seniors in neglecting their needs and ignoring their preferences when selecting a speaker.

We at the Evanstonian believe that the senior class deserves recognition from its administration and a reasonable commencement speaker, one that’s able to touch on the students’ own community and high school experiences; Steve Hagerty is not such a speaker. School leadership could have and should have chosen from student-favored alumni such as 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Megan Twohey, 2017 Emmy Winner Lena Waithe or nationally recognized teacher and recent retiree Rodney Lowe for the role, though it unfortunately seems too late to change the speaking arrangements. But both replacing the traditional commencement speech with additional remarks from a current staff member or having no address at all would be favorable to hearing an outsider comment on his misguided perception of the community.

The administration has chosen a figure with little connection to Evanston or to ETHS and rendered the class of 2018 voiceless in regards to their own graduation. Graduates and family members will be presented on June 2 with an impersonal, likely inaccurate perspective on their own lives; they have every right to be disappointed.