Last Friday at Bill Clinton’s much-anticipated speech, AU Communications pulled a fast one on the student body.
Clinton, with his typical social grace, was brilliant. Being called the “Wonk of the Year,” or even a wonk at all, would make many feel awkward and uncomfortable. But not Clinton. He was able to frame the word in terms of its positives and made it almost admirable.
“I love, deeply, when people make fun of me for being wonky because I figured people wanted a president who actually knew something,” he said.
Even the anti-WONKs among us could feel their antagonism begin to melt. Maybe, just maybe, we thought, being a wonk isn’t such a bad thing.
And that’s exactly what AU Marketing seemed to want you to think.
Clinton’s inspiring speech aside, our University shamelessly turned the speaking engagement into a marketing bonanza. Yes, the innocuous idea of the “Wonk of the Year” Award seems to have originated from KPU members themselves. But as attendees crept to Bender along the line that wrapped around Hughes and McDowell Halls, the WONK marketing theme became abundantly clear.
The stage was decked with banners fully embossed in the infamous WONK font, and on each side of the podium were screens projecting what can only be described as a PowerPoint on all things WONK. A timeline traced the history of WONK through the ages, highlighting AU’s achievements, but also working in Clinton’s wonky accomplishments along the way. And Clinton’s introduction centered around the award itself. Clearly, AU plans to use the “Wonks of the Year” as yet another tool in its branding arsenal.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We admit, Bill Clinton is an admirable wonk. We only wish the effort weren’t so heavy-handed. We get it, AU. We’re wonks. Let’s just not bludgeon all of the event’s attendees with the term in the future.
Moreover, administrators and students need to decide what this now-annual award really means for the future.
How will this award be given out over the years ahead? While KPU claims to have wanted to give the award to Clinton, there is no guarantee that this arrangement will continue in the future. AU is likely to exert strict control of its WONK brand. If AU Communications decides the students’ choice for “Wonk of the Year” doesn’t fit the AU “image,” what happens? And if the administration overrules the students, is the award reception still a KPU (read: student-run) event? These simple logistics should be clarified.
And what happens when AU moves on from WONK? Branding campaigns — *tear* — don’t last forever. Is this award going to fade into obscurity once the “powers that be” decide the term “wonk” no longer describes the ideal AU student? If the ceremony is simply the branding tool we think it is, we hope the University doesn’t play up the award to such Nobel-esque proportions when it may disappear in a matter of years.
So, as we bask in the lingering glow of Clinton’s speech, we — students and administrators — have some pondering to do. What does it mean to be a wonk? Or, more specifically, the “Wonk of the Year”? ≠ E