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May 23, 2008

Doniger to deliver convocation speech

Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade distinguished service professor in the Divinity School, will deliver the commencement address to this year's graduating classes at the June 13 and 14 graduate and College convocation ceremonies. Steven Kaplan, the Neubaurer Family professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the Graduate School of Business, will deliver the commencement address to graduating GSB students on June 15.

Doniger said she is thrilled by the announcement and is looking forward to addressing graduating students.

"I delayed my summer plans several weeks in order to do it. I think it's a great honor," Doninger said.

Her speech, entitled "Thinking More Critically About Thinking Too Critically," will explore critical approaches to classic texts written in cultures and eras whose values diverge from modern sensibilities, Doniger said. Doniger has also delivered the Orientation Week's traditional Aims of Education address in the past, but said that her commencement speech will approach problems of reading in a different light.

"This will be more about coming to terms with the flaws in great classics. Problems such as racism and sexism are looked at in a different way today," she said. "It's about learning to read the classics in a new way that was not possible fifty years ago."

Doniger said she looks forward to a final opportunity to address her own graduating students, adding that she admires the University's tradition of choosing faculty speakers instead of well known public figures.

"Chicago has its funny traditions and this is one of them," she said. "You see your own students graduate so it's very nice."

Unlike many of its peer institutions, the University typically chooses faculty members to deliver the annual commencement address. By contrast, at Harvard's upcoming commencement ceremony, J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, will deliver this year's address. In previous years, Bill Gates, Conan O'Brien, and Will Ferrell have given Harvard's graduation speeches.

Well known author Dave Eggers will deliver Brown University's address and former British prime minister Tony Blair will speak at Yale. Presidential candidate and U of C Law School professor Barack Obama will address the graduating class at Wesleyan University, an announcement made this week after the school's original speaker, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor

President Bill Clinton delivered remarks in addition to the faculty address at the 1999 convocation, as did New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006.

Not all students agree with the University's tradition of choosing faculty members over big-name speakers, and many say that the U of C should jump on the bandwagon of schools who bring public figures to campus for commencement.

Fourth-year Andrew Hughes would rather have a well known speaker deliver the commencement address than a professor when he graduates next month.

"Certainly there are some professors who could deliver great speeches, but few if any could provide that opportunity to say, 'I saw so-and-so speak,'" Hughes said. "I suppose I want a memorable send-off to commemorate my time here. I want to be able to look back fondly on my last day at the University."

Third-year Jake Lasala agreed.

"I have been to a few large-scale talks at this University, and the majority have knocked me out. By the time they speak at my graduation, I will have already done all the work; it would be nice to sit back and be entertained," Lasala said.

"It would be nice to hear from someone who isn't part of this community, who can talk about the real world, because Lord knows this isn't real life," he said.

However, second-year Nick Geller said that the University's tradition of selecting commencement speakers from the faculty helps maintains its intellectual tradition and distinguishes it from its Ivy League peers.

"Commencement is not about laughing," Geller said. "At Harvard, Princeton, and other Ivy League schools that want a celebrity to speak, it is really all about the frills, and there is not any real substance."

Correction

The May 23 article "Doniger to Deliver Convocation Speech" incorrectly reported that in 1999 and 2006, President Bill Clinton and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered the University's convocation addresses, respectively. They delivered convocation remarks in addition to the traditional address delivered by University faculty members.