Penn is returning to its roots by naming a prominent alumnus as the 2010 commencement speaker.
Jon Huntsman, Jr., U.S. ambassador to China, will speak at Penn’s 254th commencement on May 17, according to a University press release.
Huntsman — who received a bachelor’s degree from Penn in 1987 — is currently the ambassador to China. Previously, he served as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009.
He has a long career in public service and was formerly deputy assistant secretary of commerce for Asia, ambassador to Singapore and a deputy U.S. trade representative.
“It is an honor to welcome Jon Huntsman, Jr. back to campus as this year’s Commencement speaker,” Penn President Amy Gutmann wrote in a statement. “He is a distinguished public servant — and a proud Penn alum — and has been an exemplary role model not only for our graduating students but for all Americans.”
Huntsman also spoke at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement in 2002.
Students had a variety of reactions, ranging from excitement over having an alumnus as the speaker to disappointment that Huntsman is less well-known than speakers at peer schools.
“I’m pretty excited about it. He’s respected, and I think he’ll make for a good speaker,” College senior Diana Soran said.
“A good speech is preferred to a superstar speaker,” College senior and former Student Activities Council Chairwoman Natalie Vernon wrote in an e-mail.
Still, she continued, “Ambassador Huntsman is a bit of a cop-out. Come on Penn, that’s all you’ve got? While I am interested in hearing what he has to say, I feel the Huntsman family is too entrenched here already.”
Several institutions have already announced their commencement speakers.
Actress Meryl Streep will speak at the Barnard College’s commencement, while California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will give the address at Emory University’s. Retired Supreme Court justice David Souter will be the principal speaker at Harvard University’s commencement.
Previous Penn speakers include Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, actress Jodie Foster, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Bono.
College senior Brandon Gollotti said, Penn could “think outside the box” more and get someone not associated with Penn.
The Huntsman family is a long-time supporter of the University, having endowed the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business and Jon M. Huntsman Hall, which was named for Huntsman’s father.
According to University Secretary Leslie Kruhly, student input for speaker choice comes primarily through representation on the University Council Committee on Honorary Degrees and the Speaker Advisory Group. This group includes representatives of the Undergraduate Assembly and the United Minorities Council, among others.
The Trustee Honorary Degree Committee, on which the University President serves, makes the final decision regarding Commencement speaker and Honorary Degree recipients.