Students propose 2010, 2011 commencement speaker possibilities

Eric Nickeson-Mendheim

Credit: Johnson
Credit: Johnson

Another speaker will stand in front of crowds of graduating seniors and their families this May. While the decision of who to bring has yet to be made, seniors and faculty have been submitting nominations for commencement speakers since Nov. 17.

Some seniors, such as Maryn Juergens, harbor high hopes for this year’s speaker.

“I am really excited to have a great speaker for graduation,” said Juergens. “I would love to have Obama.”

While it is unlikely that Obama will speak at commencement, President Bridges and the Joint Faculty/Governing Boards Committee on Honorary Degrees have set for themselves a high bar to meet. In 2007, prevalent economist Jeffrey Sachs spoke, and in 2008 Bill Gates Sr. spoke.

“[Bill Gates Sr.] was very popular with the student body,” said Associate to the President Jed Schwendiman. “We try to get speakers from all sorts of disciplines.”

Some seniors would like to see the speaker not just be someone who the students are interested in, but also someone who can bring a significant contribution to the ceremony.

“I would like to see someone who isn’t just selected based off of their popularity with the student body,” said senior Adam Caniparoli. “I don’t care what they discuss as long as it makes us think.”

All seniors are able to submit nominations on whom they would like to see speak.

“The way the process works is we usually send out an e-mail and get nominations and those are added to a long list of previous nominations from other years,” said Schwendiman.

The list of nominated speakers currently stands at 30 people. Names on the list can be vetoed at any time by a council any time it goes through the committee process.

“The list goes through several groups,” said Schwediman. “First, a community of students and faculty decide which nominations will make it through, then the joint governing boards committee okays the list. Then, the Board of Trustees have to approve. Finally, the president makes the final decision.”

Another consideration is the difficulty of getting a speaker to come to Walla Walla for commencement.

“We need somebody to come and speak on a certain day and a certain time,” said Schwediman. “It’s hard to get most people out to Walla Walla at that time.”

Despite these challenges, seniors still hope to have someone who will inspire them.

“I would like to see a well-known highly regarded  politician, activist or academic scholar,” said senior Sarah Deming. “It does not matter tremendously who the speaker is as my commencement will not be ruined if I did not like the speaker or his commencement address. I would like to see someone accomplished giving our class honest yet inspiring advice. I think it is important that the speaker stays away from overtly political issues but rather talks about ideals, skills and non-political viewpoints on life.”

Commencement is on May 23.