Speakers announced for spring 2012 commencement


In less than one month, MSU’s graduates will have the opportunity to listen to Ireland’s first female president and the director of the National Science Foundation at spring commencement, which has drawn mixed reactions from upcoming graduates.

Mary Robinson, who will speak to undergraduate candidates, served as president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and currently serves as president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and chancellor of the University of Dublin. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in July 2009 by President Barack Obama.

Subra Suresh, who will speak to advance-degree candidates, was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2010 to assume his current role. He previously was dean of the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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In choosing commencement speakers, university officials consider whom students might be interested in hearing from and whom officials would be comfortable rewarding an honorary degree to, said Bill Beekman, secretary to the Board of Trustees.

He added MSU does not pay commencement speakers, which rules out some popular leaders and celebrities, such as Jon Stewart, he said.

“I have to try to find individuals who sort of hit that sweet spot,” he said, noting the university receives about 30 to 40 speaker submissions a year from students and faculty.

Reaction to Tuesday’s announcement varied, with some people taking to Twitter to express confusion on who the selected speakers are. But Beekman said he invites everyone to attend the convocation, give the speakers a chance and be impressed with what they hear.

“Some students say, ‘Who’s Mary Robinson?’ and that’s not an unfair response,” he said. “(We) try to bring to campus folks who are world leaders, (and) in some cases, some students might be less familiar with some people.”

Psychology senior Kristyn Paruk said she’s indifferent to the speaker selection process, but pointed to the University of Michigan when President Barack Obama delivered an address in spring 2010 as an “amazing and cool” commencement speaker.

“I am just looking forward to graduating,” she said. “If they were more prominent, (I might attend). This is just adding to my apathy.”

Psychology and professional writing senior Ariel Simon feels differently and said because the speaker is of international prominence, it would be worth attending.

“I thought that (the announcement of the speakers) was pretty cool (because) they’re not just heads of local government,” she said.

The free undergraduate convocation is scheduled for 1 p.m. May 4 at Breslin Center, at which Robinson is expected to speak and receive an honorary doctorate of laws. MSU alumnus and philanthropist Robert Skandalaris also will receive an honorary doctorate of business at that event.

Suresh is scheduled to address advanced-degree candidates at 7 p.m. May 4, also at Breslin Center, and receive an honorary doctorate of science. Emil Boc, prime minister of Romania from 2008 to 2012, will receive an honorary doctorate of laws at that time.

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