Joke Issue: Canada out as Penn looks for new grad speaker
Responding to student criticism, panel to search for a more ‘high-profile’ speaker
April 3, 2012, 11:34 pm · Updated April 4, 2012, 11:41 pm·
Bowing to student pressure, the University announced Tuesday that social activist Geoffrey Canada will no longer be this year’s Commencement speaker.
“Penn is an institution that values student feedback, and the response from the student body was clear,” University Secretary Leslie Kruhly said in a statement. “A panel of administrators, faculty and students has been convened to select a more high-profile speaker.”
Wharton senior and 2012 Class Board President Jibran Khan, who served on the original advisory committee that selected Canada, said “it’s a shame students won’t be able to hear the words of someone who changed the field of education forever.”
A survey conducted by the University last week found that 86 percent of graduating students had never heard of Canada and 73 percent of students wanted a different Commencement speaker, prompting Penn to convene the new panel.
The goal of the panel will be to select a speaker almost every graduating student will have heard of, said Penn professor and University Council Honorary Degree Committee Chair Carol Muller.
To achieve this goal, the panel will extend invites to individuals with the most Twitter followers.
“We’re hoping we can get Lady Gaga,” Muller said. “But we’d be fine with Justin Bieber, Katy Perry or even Rihanna.”
Singer-songwriter Stefani “Lady Gaga” Germanotta has more than 22 million Twitter followers. In contrast, the Harlem Children’s Zone — a nonprofit organization founded by Canada to aid needy children and families in Harlem — has just 4,373 followers.
“The math is undeniable,” said Marketing professor Jonah Berger, who studies social influence. “A graduation speech by Lady Gaga would yield an approximate 5,547 percent increase in student satisfaction than Geoffrey Canada.”
Canada wrote in an email that he was “disappointed” by Penn’s decision to replace him as Commencement speaker but he “understood why the decision was made.”
“I get it. I’m not a sexy name,” he wrote.
Wharton senior Alicia Cashman said she is excited about Penn’s decision to select a new speaker.
When asked who her ideal speaker would be, Cashman said, “Someone who is making a difference in the world. Someone who helps improve the lives of other people. Someone who’s tackling one of the most important issues of our time … maybe education.”
For more information, check out this related story.