The administration's announcement that first lady Barbara Bush will speak at the May 14 Commencement elicited mixed student reaction -- ranging from sharp criticism to indifference. Bush, who will address the approximately 5000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students receiving degrees, is noted for her work as an advocate of increasing literacy. She serves as the honorary chairperson of several national literacy organizations and chairs her own group, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Assistant to the President William Epstein said Sunday that Bush was the University's first choice for Commencement speaker. But several University students said they were disappointed with the choice of Bush, saying that although she is not a "bad choice," they would have preferred a more "prestigious" speaker. Neufeld added that he would have preferred Ivy Day speaker and former Philadelphia 76er Julius Erving, also known as "Dr. J.," to be this year's Commencement speaker. "Not only would he have been great because he's been very successful, but because Penn has been perceived as separate from the rest of the community," Neufeld said. "It would have been a good chance for the University to make a step towards playing a broader role in the city and in being a city leader." College senior Jordan Bernstein said yesterday that he was "a little disappointed" that the University had named Bush as this year's speaker. "I don't think she's known for her dynamic speaking abilities," Bernstein said. "I think the University was trying to get a big name. They got a name, but it's just the wrong name." And Engineering senior Mark Onufrak said that he would prefer that a distinguished University alumnus speak at Commencement. He added that although Bush has been involved in several activities, "so has every first lady." "If you had a female speaker who got to be where she was because of what she did rather than because she's the wife of the President, it would be better in terms of a role model," Onufrak said. Bush has also agreed to speak at Wellesley College's June commencement excercises, and students there petitioned against her selection. According to Wellesley News Editor-in-Chief Angie Garling, approximately 150 of the school's 2200 students signed the statement. "To honor Mrs. Bush as a commencement speaker is to honor a woman who has gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which contradicts what we have been taught over [our] years at Wellesley," the petition reads. "She does not exemplify the qualities that Wellesley seeks to instill in us." Garling said that writer Alice Walker was initially scheduled to speak, but cancelled due to personal reasons. But several students voiced support for the University's decision, saying that Bush's personal qualities and contributions to literacy as well as her gender make her an "excellent choice." College senior Julie Phillips said yesterday that she is especially happy that this year's selection was a woman, adding that she expects Bush to appeal to the students and family members. "She seems to be a very nice, warm person," Phillips said. "I will be interested in what she has to say." Medical student Colleen Cooke, who will receive her degree at the Commencement ceremonies, said yesterday that she also greatly supports the decision, adding that "she's a celebrity and will probably have interesting things to say." Many other students said they were indifferent to the selection of Bush as this year's Commencement speaker. College senior Lisa Ortiz said yesterday that she does not think many people are concerned with the choice. "All we care about is graduating," Ortiz said. "I was kind of hoping we could get someone non-conservative, non-Republican, non-political -- except Gorbachev -- but I guess Brown [University] already got him." And College senior Cheryl Denenberg said that she has mixed feelings about the selection. "She's a wonderful lady, and she has many good viewpoints, but so does my grandmother, who happens not to be married to George Bush," Denenberg said.Comments powered by Disqus
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