Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Blast from the past: me in USA Today on choice of Harvard commencement speaker

Today, while engaging in various heuristic methods of confirming that I do exist to people other than myself*, I discovered this article in USA today, "Students are getting a say in commencement speakers," quoting me on Harvard's choice of J.K. Rowling:

"I feel cheated," says Jean Yang, a Harvard senior majoring in computer science. "It feels like a very trendy choice."

Yang says that although Harvard obviously thought more about giving students a popular speaker this year, most students just want to be inspired on their graduation day.

"When I look back at my commencement, I want to be reminded of something I was a part of," she says. "I don't want to think of it as the time of Harry Potter."

To provide some background, the commencement speaker at Harvard this year was J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Since this is no longer relevant, I'll just briefly summarize my thoughts: prior to graduation, I had been disappointed in the choice of commencement speaker given previous speakers (Bill Gates, Mother Theresa, etc.). Especially since I have only read one of the Harry Potter books, I felt that the graduation speaker situation epitomized the university's pandering to students' desires rather than focusing on giving us an education. (Harry Lewis expresses criticism of the commodification of education as it relates to an evolving Harvard in his book Excellence Without a Soul. I agree with many of these points.) Anyway, most of the criticism I had in choice of speaker is no longer relevant since the speech happened months ago and was actually very good. J.K. Rowling gave a very good speech, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, about how failure is educational, that we should keep our imaginations open, and that we should remember our positions in the world and not forget those less fortunate. This was a particular appropriate speech for our graduation, where President Drew Faust's address to us expressed her concern that so many students came to Harvard with idealism and optimism and would end up forgetting much of it to do consulting or investment banking. I am happy to report that Rowling surprised me by giving us appropriate and relevant advice as we headed off into the (perhaps particularly soulless?) unknown.

*I was... not... Googling myself...


Jesse A. Tov said...

I don't even remember who my commencement speaker was. My class day speaker was Will Ferrell; I didn't go.

Jean said...

Our class day speaker was Ben Bernanke; an appropriate choice. I don't remember what he said.

Jesse A. Tov said...

That seems backward. You're supposed to have an artist for class day and an economist for commencement.

My freshman year it was Conan O'Brien and Amartya Sen.