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Spring commencement address may move from Mother's Day slot in 2018

Released administrator emails also reveal a push for a female speaker in 2015

The Class of 2014 gathers for graduation on Mother’s Day. Many students display a show of support for all the mothers attending.

The Class of 2014 gathers for graduation on Mother’s Day. Many students display a show of support for all the mothers attending.

There is a chance 2018 spring Commencement will not be held on the traditional Mother’s Day slot it has held for years.

Executive Vice Provost Ron Strauss said Thursday that it is the plan to move 2017 Commencement off of Mother’s Day, but University spokesperson Jim Gregory said the calendar has already been set for 2017 Commencement to take place on Mother’s Day, and the earliest this change could take place would be 2018. The calendar for the 2017-18 academic year will be voted on next month, Gregory said.

Strauss, who chairs the Commencement Committee, said the two simultaneous events put stress on the town, potential speakers and faculty.

“Some of the people we invite to be speakers say, ‘I would come any other time than Mother’s Day’ — it’s ‘I am a mother’ or ‘I’ve got a mother,’” Strauss said.

“We’ve have lost major possible speakers who tell us, ‘I can’t be away for Mother’s Day.’”

He declined to list an example of a speaker who declined to come because of the date because the University is hoping to reach back out if the date has been pushed back.

According to emails between administrators, student leaders and deans obtained by The Daily Tar Heel, a meeting was proposed by Strauss in January 2015 to discuss moving the Commencement address away from Mother’s Day.

Several on the email chain sent Strauss messages of support for the possible change.

“Ron, glad you’re doing this,” said Steve Matson, dean of the Graduate School, in an email response to Strauss.

The change from the traditional Mother’s Day ceremony would not be permanent, Strauss said, and the University would remain open to feedback.

Emails obtained from the Commencement Speaker Selection Committee show the group was hoping to bring a woman to campus for 2015 Commencement.

The committee’s first seven-person list, sent to Chancellor Carol Folt in February 2014, was entirely female, including First Lady Michelle Obama and Queen Noor of Jordan.

Strauss admitted the committee was looking for a woman after a relatively long run of male speakers.

“We did want to have some nice balance by gender with some of our speakers,” he said.

The last female speaker at spring Commencement was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2007, but that streak will end at spring 2016 Commencement with speaker Anne Marie-Slaughter. The University brought performing artist Jessye Norman to speak at 2008 Commencement, but she did not speak because heavy rains shortened the ceremony.

Jason Kilar, the founder of Hulu and the eventual 2015 Commencement speaker, was also not on the revised list that the committee created in fall 2014. That list included men and women from a variety of backgrounds, including actor Matt Damon and actress Emma Watson.

Kilar, Strauss said, was nominated by a senior staff member at UNC who personally knew Kilar. The final decision for spring Commencement speakers comes from the chancellor, who takes the committee’s recommendations into account.

Former Student Body Vice President Kyle Villemain, who served on the 2014-15 committee, said he did not feel like Folt had a certain person in mind during the process.

“We had a bit of bad luck,” Villemain said about attracting the committee’s top candidates from the original list of women.

But, Villemain added, the selection of Kilar was a hit — a sentiment shared by Strauss and others on the committee.

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