Campus / News / February 21, 2008

Madeleine Albright commencement speaker for ‘08

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will be the Knox College 2008 commencement speaker, the school announced Friday.

Albright will follow other big-name politicians including former President Bill Clinton, former Senator Barack Obama, and comedian Stephen Colbert, who in recent yearsgave comencement addresses at Knox and received honorary degrees.

“I think she’s a good compliment to who we’ve had in the past, and really rounds out the speakers for our class,” said senior class Vice President Kim Jansen.

The class of 2008 was overwhelmingly in favor of having a female commencement speaker committed to social justice, said Senior Class President Leah Heister.

“It reflects the interests of the students,” said Director of Public Relations Karrie Heartlein. “Knox students seem to be politically aware and active.”

Senior Pat Dodge, on the other hand, would have liked to see a shift away from political speakers.

“I think Knox has been a little too politicized with commencement speakers,” said Dodge, who suggested as an alternative an author, actor, or television personality.

Dodge’s ideal commencement speaker would be J.K. Rowling.

“She is a kind of run-of-the-mill person who achieved monumental success, and I think that’s all Knox students, or any college student for that matter, can ask for,” he said.

Heister said she accepts some dissent is only to be expected, but would ask those who disapprove of the selection be mindful and respectful of the hard work that the Board of Trustees has put in contacting the potential commencement speakers.

“Knox is unique in that it lets students, when they are juniors, make a list of nominations,” said Heister.

Once a list of approximately 60 nominees had been compiled, members of the class of 2008 had the opportunity to vote for their top ten favorites. The narrowed list of the top ten candidates was then submitted to the Board of Trustees, who went about the task of finding the most feasible candidate and inviting that person to Knox.

“We’re so thankful to have such a great group of trustees,” said Heister. “I think [the selection process] bridges the gap between the trustees and the students. And, [Roger Taylor] is really good about keeping us updated on what’s happening [with the board].”

With the last three commencement speakers being big-names, Heister said it is easy to take for granted having such guests is not a right, but rather a privilege that requires hard work from several people.

Although Heister said she thinks some students “forget that the tradition hasn’t always been this way,” she is glad to see the trend of high-profile speakers continuing this year.

“It gives the school some well-deserved publicity,” she said.

Heartlein said that such prestige is difficult to estimate at this point how many people will attend commencement on June 8, but she thinks having another high-profile speaker will be good for the college.

“It’s a great tradition and a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on Knox,” Heartlein said.

In addition to the benefits in terms of publicity, Heartlein believes having a public figure as a commencement speaker will have a personal impact on the graduates.

“I think it will be a memorable commencement for the seniors,” said Heartlein. “When you look at the history of Madeleine Albright, you see someone who has made history — who’s been a part of major historical events. Clearly the seniors felt some connection to her and her place in history. I’m excited for them.”

Erin Coleman

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