Penn’s choice for its 2017 commencement speaker has ignited a debate on campus around ideological diversity.
When the administration announced that Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a frequent critic of Donald Trump, would be this year’s commencement speaker, some students denounced the choice as reflecting the lack of ideological diversity at Penn.
With Commencement only days away, campus opinion regarding Booker remains divided.
“Regardless of my personal opinions, I do think that the commencement speaker should not be making a political statement,” College senior Samantha Rahmin said.
As a resident of New Jersey, Rahmin has already had opportunities to see Booker speak and said she would have preferred another speaker.
“The past few speakers have had such a strong left leaning,” Rahmin said, referencing past commencement speakers, former Vice President Joe Biden, John Legend, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers and actor-playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“We’re getting to a point where if they were going to choose someone political, they should’ve chosen someone more moderate or more to the right,” she added.
College and Wharton freshman and College Republicans representative Michael Moroz agreed.
“I think intellectual diversity is extremely important, and universities have a deep role in facilitating it. Unfortunately in this case, Penn hasn’t lived up to its mission,” he said.
Moroz previously the administration’s choice of speaker during an Open Forum at a University Council meeting. He claimed that the administration’s choice of Booker, an outspoken critic of President Trump, could alienate conservative students.
Moroz argued that since Samantha Powers had been invited speak in 2015, the University should have considered inviting a political figure from the other side of the ideological divide, such as Nikki Haley, the current UN ambassador under the Trump administration, to this year’s commencement.
“Learning from people who have lived through life and have achieved such success is an incredibly valuable thing. But ... not only liberals have lessons or values to share with students.” he said.
Despite disagreement, and possible backlash, many of Penn’s seniors continue to defend the choice of Booker as speaker.
College senior Taylor Nefussy pointed out 2017 commencement speaker Lin-Manuel Miranda and Booker come from different occupational backgrounds. While Lin-Manuel shared lessons from his experiences in the theater world, Booker comes from a political background.
“He’s a real rising star in the Democratic Party,” she said. “It will be really cool to say we got to see him speak way back when.”