Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to Speak at Commencement

Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis.

Last week, the Office of Communications announced that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has been selected as this year’s commencement speaker.  Jewell, the former CEO of R.E.I., will address commencement attendees on May 25.

Jewell, a former Seattle resident, left her position at R.E.I. to become Secretary of the Interior last year.  The Department of the Interior runs and maintains federal lands, including the National Park system and Indian reservations.

President Bridges chose Jewell from a long list of nominations from students, faculty and staff.  Each year, the list includes new nominations as well as recommendations from previous years.

“We have a lengthy list of individuals who faculty, staff and students have nominated in previous years and who we haven’t been able to bring … and those who were nominated for the first time [this year],” Bridges said.  “We take that list and we consult with people on campus.  And the challenge, of course, is identifying which of the individuals that are nominated we actually think we can get.”

Bridges knew Jewell personally during his time at the University of Washington.  Jewell served on the Board of Regents when Bridges worked there as a sociology professor and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education.

“It’s tough to get a cabinet official under any circumstance, given the nature of their schedules,” said Bridges.  “But since she and I have a previous relationship … I thought, ‘This is a person we might be able to get.'”

Bridges also noted that Jewell’s gender was considered in the selection process.

“We’ve had a history of male speakers,” he said, “and I wanted to be sure that we would have a speaker who could represent women in many ways.”

Chief Communications Officer Michelle Ma believes that Jewell’s northwestern roots and involvement in environmental issues make her a perfect fit for Whitman.

“With the focus on the outdoors and the environment, [Jewell’s selection] seemed really fitting with many of the like-minded students, faculty and staff that we have here at Whitman,” Ma said.  “So I think she can give some great inspirational words of advice and wisdom for our graduating class and their families.”

Many seniors have high hopes for the speech, but suspect it won’t live up to last year’s address by Monty Python comedian Eric Idle.

“No one’s going to beat Eric Idle,” said senior Joe Mayo.  “He was great just because, you know, it’s Monty Python.  It’s a great cultural icon.”

Despite the high standard Jewell will be held to in the wake of Idle, Mayo still thinks Jewell’s speech has promise.

“If she writes a great speech, and it’s applicable to our venture into the real world, I think she’d be a great commencement speaker.”

While Bridges still doesn’t know in what direction Jewell plans to take her speech, he’s confident that it will suit the Whitman community well and in a way totally different from Idle’s.

“I’ve heard her speak before, and I think she’s the kind of person that Whitman audiences would respond well to,” Bridges said.  “I have directed her to previous commencement speeches given, and I promised her she wouldn’t have to be as funny as Eric Idle … Idle was funny, but he’s an international celebrity and comedian.  That’s his whole career, so you wouldn’t expect anything but that, or at least I wouldn’t.”

The speeches Bridges pointed Jewell toward included that of William Gates, Sr. in 2008 as well as Idle’s and a number of others.  While Bridges believes that many components make up a great speech, he trusts in the voices of students.

Bridges gave a brief list of important components for a commencement address.

“A short speech, relevant to students,” he said.  “A provocative speech, not just something that delivers a set of platitudes.  Authenticity and voice.  And a little bit of humor, if you can.  But I’m not a good judge of that, really. The students are a better judge of that.”

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