The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 26th

Committee begins search for 2012 commencement speaker early

Group aims big for graduation

In an effort to attract the cream of the crop of commencement speakers, the University’s leadership is starting early.

Chancellor Holden Thorp’s commencement speaker advisory committee for the spring 2012 comment ceremony met Thursday to begin discussing who will deliver next year’s commencement address — six months earlier than usual.

“We’re trying to get some more time and get speakers lined up in advance,” said Dr. Ron Strauss, executive associate provost and chairman of the committee.

“In the past we’ve called speakers and had them tell us, ‘If you called half a year earlier, I wouldn’t be booked up.’”

The decision to begin the speaker search sooner resulted from the choice of environmentalist and Harvard University professor E.O. Wilson as the speaker this year. Though pleased to have a speaker of Wilson’s quality, Strauss said in January that he was not the committee’s first choice and attributed the University’s failure to get its first choice to its late start.

Committee members said Thursday that by convening in the spring, the group has been able to invite more student leaders to take part in the search.

Hogan Medlin, the student body president, along with his vice president, senior class officers and the Graduate and Professional Student Federation president have all been included in the process, though some will be graduating in May.

Newly elected campus leaders, including Student Body President-elect Mary Cooper and senior class presidents-elect Dean Drescher and Mohammad Saad, also attended the meeting.

“The more students you can get in the room, the better,” said Holly Boardman, student body vice president. “I think it’s a fun committee to be on.”

Cooper said she thought the committee was wise to start its decision-making earlier.

“It’s always better to start sooner,” Cooper said. “It’s a cool conversation that I’m glad to be a part of.”

Strauss said the committee might have more meetings later if it doesn’t narrow down its list of speakers, but ultimately it will be the chancellor’s decision.

The committee would not reveal any of its potential speakers’ names Thursday due to the sensitive nature of the selection process.

“If a name is out, it may poison our ability to get that speaker,” Strauss said. “If a person finds out they’re our second choice, they might also not want to come.”

Strauss said he thinks Thorp isn’t inclined to choose career entertainers or people with honorary degrees as speakers, though musician and philanthropist Bono has been on the list in past years.

Strauss said the University differs from several other schools in that it does not pay its speakers.

“It has been the tradition in history that speakers come here because they want to.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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