Springer addresses Law grads at commencement

Nomaan Merchant

Talk show host and former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer, Law ’68, did not shy away from the controversy surrounding his invitation during a Friday commencement address to School of Law graduates.

“Let’s be honest – I’ve been virtually everything you can’t respect: a lawyer, a mayor, a news anchor and a talk show host,” Springer joked. “Pray for me; if I get to heaven, we’re all going.”

Springer used heavy doses of self-deprecation throughout his approximately 15-minute speech, and talked about his background as an immigrant whose parents escaped the Holocaust.

“In one generation here in America, my family went from near-total annihilation to the ridiculously privileged life I live today because of my silly show,” he said.

He told the graduates inside the Arie Crown Theater south of downtown Chicago that they would face ethical dilemmas regardless of the occupation they chose.

“Think of the ethical questions you will have to deal with,” he said. “Will you work with a corporate client who perhaps is polluting? Will you walk into a senior partner’s office after having been asked to prepare a memorandum in support of this client’s case and say, ‘I’m sorry, sir or madam, I have to find another place to work?'”

Despite the degrees they were about to receive, Springer told graduates they were not superior to the people they would serve.

“We are all alike,” he said to applause. “Some of us just dress better or have money or were born into better circumstances.”

Springer received a standing ovation from about half the students after his speech, and Law Dean David Van Zandt and University President Henry Bienen stood to greet him afterward. Springer has addressed students on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses at least three times since 2002. He talked about the Iraq war and health care at an April 2007 event hosted by a Law School student group. On multiple occasions, Springer has said the notoriety of his show gives him a broader platform to discuss other issues.

“I’m sure the show hurts my reputation, but it lets me do a lot of stuff I think is valuable,” he said during a 2004 appearance at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

A student committee formed to choose a commencement speaker selected Springer. The choice sparked dozens of e-mails to School of Law listservs both for and against inviting the talk show host.

Van Zandt wrote in an April 21 school-wide e-mail, provided to The DAILY by a law student, that he was taking student concerns “very seriously,” but would not rescind the student committee’s invitation.

Springer addressed the concerns many students had just a few minutes into his speech.

“As happy as I am to look out and see all of your faces, I understand there are some of you who are not too happy to see mine,” Springer said. “To the students who invited me, thank you, I am honored. To the students who object to my presence, well, you’ve got a point. I too would have chosen someone else.”

Graduates outside the hall afterward mostly lauded Springer’s performance, although some students declined to comment.

“It’s the only time during the ceremony that I was teary-eyed,” said graduate Molly Sorg.

Another graduate, Brian Miller, said he’s forgotten the speeches at his high school and college graduations, but this one was more memorable.

“I’ll remember that for the rest of my life,” Miller said.

Read Monday’s DAILY for more on Springer’s speech.