Seniors to have more say on commencement speaker

By Qingyang Liu

Macalester College has changed its commencement speaker selection process for the graduating seniors this year. Rather than a small group making the decision, this year every senior will have a voice in selecting a speaker of their choice. Seniors have already been able to nominate potential commencement speakers. According to the Commencement Speaker Selection Committee’s original plan, they will then narrow the list of nominees to five or six finalists, and seniors will eventually be able to vote for their choice from the finalist list.

The exact timeline for this process, however, is still unclear.

In the past, the speakers were chosen through a closed process by a small group of people, including staff, trustees, the President and some students, but this year a Commencement Speaker Selection Committee will only be one part of the process.

“It’s good to have the committee put ideas together, because there are more students brainstorming on how to make a good decision,” said Katie Agnew ’11. Agnew serves as the Program Board Chair, and is the only student formally on the Commencement Speaker Selection Committee. She likes the new process, particularly because it is not “just handled by the president and his office”.

“It is meaningful for the seniors to find people who can give them useful information” about life after Macalester said Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre. “It is their graduation, so they should have the right to decide on their speakers.”

Both Hamre and Agnew mentioned that there is a financial aspect to selecting speakers. While students would like to see celebrity speakers who would cost the school an arm and a leg, the main speaker will be chosen from retired faculty and staff, alumni, community members or parents with noticeable achievements.

“Apparently, famous people are good, but some movie stars cost $100,000, which is a waste of money. Because of the economic downturn, we need to think about it seriously,” Hamre said. She said she wanted the payment to “make sense.”

“It’s important for [seniors] to have the opportunity to suggest people, but sometimes the nominations are not feasible,” Agnew said. She also mentioned that money was an issue.

“People don’t necessarily understand what the money means for the college. They don’t think about where the money comes from. Maybe it is three students’ financial aid,” Agnew said.

Agnew and Hamre agreed that notable alumni were the best choices, both for their affordability and their ability to speak as former Mac students.

“It can give students a great opportunity to see what they can do in the future.” Agnew said. Although some other people can also give good speeches, “it doesn’t have such a strong connection with Macalester. It will be more meaningful and engaging to have an alumni to do this.”

The Commencement Speaker Selection Committee consists of the director of alumni relations, director of academic programs, vice president for student affairs, assistant to the president, director of communications and public relations, a faculty member from the honorary degree committee and the chair of the Program Board.

“We want to start [the process] early,” Hamre said, “so that there will be no worry for the second semester, and seniors will know who is going to speak.”

Although the president is expected to confirm a speaker before the end of the semester, the speaker will not be announced until February.