Campus / News / May 13, 2010

Speaker finally announced: Tchen

White House Director for Public Engagement Tina Tchen will deliver Knox’s 2010 commencement speech. The much-anticipated announcement was made a few minutes before noon on Monday via e-mail to the Knox community.

Tchen’s qualifications include her current position in the Obama White House, position as Executive Director of the White House council on Women and Girls and the time she spent as a lawyer in Chicago.

“Tina [Tchen] will be a terrific speaker,” said President Roger Taylor. “Given the number of women graduates we have…I think she’s the right choice.”

Tchen was originally scheduled to deliver the 2009 Fall Convocation address at Knox, however, scheduling conflicts and airplane delays kept her from arriving in Galesburg in time for the ceremony. For this speech, Taylor says Tchen is scheduled to arrive in Galesburg with plenty of time to spare.

Taylor, a former partner in the Chicago law firm Kirkland and Ellis, has been familiar with Tchen and her work for several years. Taylor is delighted to host her as this year’s commencement speaker.

“I’ve known her since she was in law school,” said Taylor, as Tchen did some work with his firm. “She is very down-to-earth. Very smart. An individual that you wonder how she’s able to do all she does.”

Student Senate Treasurer and senior class president Liesl Pereira said she believes Tchen will be someone who successfully represents Knox.

“She’s a huge deal,” Pereira said. “We’ve had a lot of men [commencement speakers]. I think it’s important that she’s a woman and she comes from a minority background. In that sense, she can appeal to everyone.”

Senior class vice president Heather Kopec agreed.

“It’s a she, it’s a minority, and she’s doing kick-ass things,” she said.

Pereira said that in choosing the commencement speaker each year, students run elections by tabling and submitting names. They then submit this list to the Board of Trustees.

“We work with them,” Pereira said of the Board of Trustees. “It has definitely been a long process. Announcing it doesn’t mean that Tchen was picked that morning.”

This year’s process has been long, according to Kopec. “The whole thing has been really stressful,” she said. “We tried to take into account the realistic possibilities and mesh that with the aggressive list that the class provided us with.”

Pereira said, “People forget that we can’t just invite someone. It’s about working the contacts and figuring out who has connections with whom.”

While Tchen has a long list of qualifications for delivering this speech, she is also following very big names within the political world: Barack Obama (2005), Stephen Colbert (2006), Bill Clinton (2007), Madeleine Albright (2008) and Patrick Fitzgerald (2009). Taylor admits Tchen may not be as popular as a figure like Colbert, but he believes in ten years she will be.

Speaking alongside Tchen as the class of 2010’s student speaker is senior Maurice McDavid. He was voted on as the best speaker by fellow seniors who attended the forum where competing students delivered their speeches.

“I am ecstatic. I am humbled,” said McDavid. “I’m super excited to be able to meet [Tchen].”

As was true for several seniors, McDavid was not familiar with Tchen before she was announced as the speaker.

“Knox has gotten used to a ‘name.’ Tina Tchcen is in the staff of the White House,” said McDavid. “She’s clearly influential. She’s clearly important…The issue people are going to have is she’s not a ‘name.’ Former president Clinton is a ‘name.’ But I respect her.”

Student reaction

“I’m glad I’m no longer held in suspense.” – Mike Oelkers, ’10

“We’ll probably get a good message out of it. I wasn’t expecting to have heard of the person.” – Erin Souza, ’10

“It’s a little annoying that they sort of dropped the ball on every other option, but I guess it will be a pretty okay speech since we were pretty pumped about it in the fall.” – Pier Debes, ’10

“I think it’s really great that we have a politically active woman who’s coming; someone who seems to really ally themselves to what Knox stands for.” – Devan Cameron, ’10

“I’m busy writing the last papers of my college career and they’re more important than who’s going to be our commencement speaker.” – Sara Belger, ’10.

A brief biography

Name: Tina Tchen

Hometown: Cleaveland, Ohio

Degrees: BA from Radcliffe College, Harvard University; JD from Northwestern University School of Law

Current position: White House Director for Public Engagement

Career history: Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls; Partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Associate at Skadden

Positions held: Springfield vice president for National Organization for Women (NOW); Fundraiser for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign

Awards: Leadership Award for Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (1999); Women of Achievement from Anti-Defamation League (1996); Chicago Lawyer “Person of the Year” (1994)

Annie Zak

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