Looking back on Commencement 2004, most members of the Penn community will remember Bono and his eagerly anticipated address to this year's senior class.
However, in his quest to deliver the most memorable remarks, Bono will have to face considerable competition. His competitors will not be other celebrities or public figures, but rather Penn students themselves.
In an effort to incorporate the graduates into the Commencement proceedings, the University's graduate and undergraduate schools are hosting individual ceremonies, which will each feature an address by one of their students.
"Since the larger University Commencement has a more famous, prominent speaker, it's really nice to have a student speaking at the individual ceremonies," says Anita Henderson, director of academic affairs and advising for the Wharton undergraduate division and faculty adviser for the committee responsible for selecting the school's Commencement speaker. "It really helps keep graduation much more focused where it should be: on the students."
To further involve students in the Commencement process, most of the University's undergraduate schools -- with the exception of the School of Engineering and Applied Science -- leave the speaker selection process almost entirely up to students.
"The students are really the ones with the power. We don't really have any input," Henderson says. "They select on their own, because it's their speaker."
Since the tradition of a student speaker at Commencement is only in its second year, the Engineering School has not yet made the transition to a student selection for speaker. The faculty and administration collectively decided on Engineering Dean's Advisory Board President Jason Bethala to deliver this year's speech.
"This is only our second year having a student speaker," says Kendal Barbee, associate director of student affairs at the Engineering office. "It's not that we wouldn't welcome student opinion in the speaker selection, it just hasn't happened yet because having a student speak at all is such a recent thing."
The School of Nursing selection process allows students to be nominated by their peers for the position of Commencement speaker. Because of the relatively small size of the school, the Nursing speaker is subsequently chosen from the pool based on a vote of the entire graduating class. The year, Nursing senior Mark Krugman was selected to speak.
Although most of the schools ultimately leave the decision in the hands of students, the processes by which they reach those decisions are distinctly different. The most striking differences are between the undergraduate schools with the largest enrollments: the College of Arts and Sciences, for which College senior Rebecca Fishman will speak, and Wharton, for which Wharton and College senior Amal Devani will deliver the address.
In the College's speaker selection process, approximately 10 students were nominated by faculty members of various departments. Fishman -- who was nominated by the Annenberg School for Communication -- was then notified and given the opportunity to present a prepared speech to a large committee, comprised mostly of students, along with College Dean Rebecca Bushnell and a few faculty members.
"By the time I got into that room to present, I was pretty intimidated," Fishman recalls.
But Fishman says she overcame her initial anxiety, and proceeded to "deliver a speech that spoke to the experience of a SAS '04 student."
"I know that I'm a delegate for my diverse class ... I talked about the pluralistic, open-ended, hyper-involved, common ground that we shared with one another, and that we created and recreated every day on Locust Walk," she says.
According to selection committee members, it was Fishman's ability to accurately represent her classmates which led them to select her as the speaker.
"It was clear that she wouldn't just offer the typical commencement speech, but that she would really be speaking as a member of the Class of '04," says College senior Naomi Berkowitz, a College Dean's Advisory Board speaker selection committee member.
Though selected through a very different process, it was this similar ability to represent his classmates which won Devani the spot of Wharton's class speaker.
"The main question that the committee asks itself is, 'Is the student body going to feel that this speech accurately represents them as a whole?'" says Sharon Mulholland, who presides over the Wharton Commencement ceremony. "The committee felt that Amal's speech accomplished this."
In contrast to the College's nomination process, Wharton follows a policy in which any Wharton senior can apply by submitting a written speech to the student committee that selects the speaker. Following a second round, in which selected students orally delivered their written addresses, the applicant pool -- which numbered about a dozen this year -- was whittled down to one student.
"The Wharton way is the way to do it," Devani said. "It's more egalitarian and open to everyone, even if you don't have ties to a faculty member who would nominate you."
Like Fishman, Devani's speech will encompass the nature of being a Penn student for the past four years.
"My speech is generally about the four years we spent together, and the close of that very important chapter of our lives," he said. "But I will also talk about the opening of a new chapter, looking toward the future."
Despite the disparities in their selection processes and their academic programs at Penn, the speakers' commencement themes seem to transcend any particular school, major or career goal.
"All the commencement speeches are usually very standard, traditional graduation speeches. They're chosen for that," Mulholland said. "They're always a little looking back, a little looking forward, a little humor thrown in and a lot of motivation to do something great."Comments powered by Disqus
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