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Some students cited Adichie’s speeches and books as influences on their thinking.

Credit: Son Nguyen

After Tuesday’s announcement that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will deliver the 2020 commencement address, Penn students expressed excitement and praised the selection for adding diversity to the graduation ceremony.

Adichie will be the first Black woman to deliver the address since 1978, when then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Harris gave the speech. Many students said they were familiar with Adichie’s previous works and praised her speeches and books.

College and Wharton senior Maria Curry said that she was excited to see Penn select a Black female speaker for the first time in decades. Curry said that Adichie's status as an author adds variety to Penn's past commencement speakers, which featured politicians such as Cory Booker and entertainers such as John Legend and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Adichie is known for her critically-acclaimed works such as “Purple Hibiscus” — which won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in 2004 and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2005 — and “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which won the Women's Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction) in 2007. 

Her novel “Americanah” won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2013, and The New York Times also named the book one of its Top Ten Best Books of 2013.

Undergraduate Assembly President and College senior Natasha Menon said that she is also looking forward to Adichie's address. Menon praised Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” which she recalls seeing in high school. The talk focuses on the perils of reducing complex people and situations to one-dimensional stories.

“The way she's able to tell stories and talk about really pressing issues is pretty extraordinary,” Menon said.

College senior Jordan Andrews said she was pleased with the decision last year to invite Bryan Stevenson to deliver the 2019 commencement address. Stevenson is a criminal justice advocate who has won several Supreme Court cases for criminal justice reform. Andrews attended last year's address and said she is looking forward to Adichie’s speech.

Wharton junior Tuti Gomoka said that although she is not graduating, she will attend commencement to hear Adichie's speech. Gomoka said that Adichie has been her favorite author since she was 15 years old.

Gomoka, who is an international student from Tanzania, said that Adichie’s ideas about feminism and the status of women in Africa resonated with her.

“She wrote stories that I could relate to,” Gomoka said. “Whenever I'm in doubt about anything, I always just go and read one of her books.”

Adichie has previously delivered commencement addresses at Wellesley College in 2015 and American University in 2019.

Wharton senior Nicole Ksendzovskaya added that students are lucky to have Adichie as the commencement speaker. 

College senior Nyazia Sajdah-Bey echoed Curry’s excitement. Sajdah-Bey said she first heard of Adichie when she read "Americanah" in high school and became more familiar with Adichie through TED Talks and Beyonce’s song “***Flawless," which featured a sample of her 2012 TED Talk "We should all be feminists.

"I’m really happy to be graduating on the day of her speech,” Sajdah-Bey said.

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