With a former Secretary of State, an Emmy Award-winning satirist, a former U.S. President and future U. S. President as his or her predecessor, Knox’s next commencement speaker will have a lot to live up to. But who will it be?
The Knox community will have to wait to find out. The process by which a commencement speaker is chosen takes “a solid year and a half,” said Dean of Students Xavier Romano. First, the senior class submits suggestions via email. From those, a list is composed of all candidates and then presented to the class again.
“People check ten names,” said Mike Dooley, senior class president. The ten most popular names become the “short list” of candidates to be reviewed by the Knox College trustees and the Honorary Degrees Committee. The president of the college receives the list in rank order of popularity and proceeds to invite potential speakers.
Though President Roger Taylor stressed that every effort would be made to obtain the graduating class’s first choice, a number of factors play into the college’s ability or inability to draw whoever that individual may be.
“We don’t pay,” said Dean Romano. “The honorary degree is payment.”
Romano went on to say that college commencement speeches have become an industry from which Knox College has chosen to abstain.
“But,” he said, “Knox has become the place to speak.”
This sentiment was echoed by 2005 commencement speaker and President-Elect Barack Obama when he greeted Taylor in Springfield last year.
“He leaned in and said, ‘My career really took off after that Knox commencement address,’” said a smiling Taylor.
Unfortunately, a formal invitation and the promise of the “Knox College bump” does not always persuade potential commencement speakers Taylor said. In this situation, the college relies heavily on connections. For example, John Podesta, the Clinton administration’s Chief of Staff and a co-chair of Obama’s transition team, is a Knox alumnus.
Currently, even the short list of candidates is confidential.
“As soon as it’s confirmed,” said Dooley, “That’s when people will know.”
Though no names have yet been released, the list is comprised of recognizable individuals according to Taylor. Senior Mike Payne says the list is guaranteed to be eclectic.
“I submitted a lot of names,” he said, “Nelson Mandela, Jon Stewart, the Pope…”
For a while, a rumor circulated the campus that the 2009 speaker would be gender-bending rock icon David Bowie. Romano regretfully squashed that bit of gossip.
“I would kick to see David Bowie,” said Romano, who attended the Thin White Duke’s last concert with Dean of the College Larry Breitborde.
Naturally, the personality of the graduating class plays a major role in the selection of a commencement speaker.
“They’re more involved,” said Romano of the class of 2009. “They do a lot of volunteering and community work.”
Romano suspects this charitable quality will produce a commencement speaker who “has been involved with others in society.”
Regardless of the candidate chosen, the commencement speech is sure to be engaging, promised Romano.
“In ten years I haven’t heard a bad speaker,” he said.