Penn announced on Tuesday that Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC and 1967 College graduate, is selected to be the 2018 commencement speaker.
Mitchell has had a decades-long career in political journalism and has received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism from Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the Society for Professional Journalists Lifetime Achievement Award.
While some Penn students see Mitchell as a political figure since she has been outspoken against Donald Trump in the past, many see Mitchell as a solid choice and not indicative of any political leaning.
“I don’t really think the University looks at politics when choosing a commencement speaker,” said College sophomore Hayley Boote, president of Penn's Government and Politics Association.
“Andrea Mitchell is a fantastic example of a public servant. She has brought a lot to the Penn name, and I think she is extremely worthy of an honorary degree.”
She added that well-informed and fair political journalism is incredibly important in today's political climate, and bringing in speakers who encourage discourse is important, regardless of political affiliation.
College sophomore and Co-Director of Penn College Republicans' editorial board Michael Moroz said he is “worried about the lack of ideological diversity” in commencement speakers.
“I think it’s fair to call into question the process that chooses repeatedly, and seemingly without fail, left-wing speakers,” Moroz said. He added that he doesn’t believe commencement speakers should be political figures since that is not the goal of a commencement speech.
In the past 25 years, Penn has invited seven U.S. political figures to speak at commencement — four Democrats and three Republicans.
The Republicans include former U.S. Ambassador to China, Russia, and Singapore and Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., former Secretary of Treasury and White House Chief of Staff James Baker III, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The Democrats include former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of Treasury Robert E. Rubin, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
“I question the wisdom of turning something that’s supposed to unite a class that’s graduating into what’s effectively a political exercise,” Moroz said.
Even when Penn does select politicians, however, many say they have not noticed any political messages or undertones to the politicans' speeches.
2017 College graduate Samantha Rahmin said she was initially against Penn inviting a politician to be a commencement speaker last year when Penn invited Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), but after hearing Booker speak she said she changed her mind.
“I was so impressed and wowed with his ability to unify everyone, even as a politician,” Rahmin said. She went on to say his "incredible speech" has given her “full faith in who the University chooses.”
President of Penn Democrats and Wharton sophomore Dylan Milligan echoed this sentiment, and said that he thinks politicians from both sides of the aisle have important messages for college graduates.
“I think political speakers are engaging to listen to,” Milligan said. “I don’t think a Democrat or a Republican coming and speaking is trying to impose an agenda on anyone.”