Kopp to give Commencement address to ’12 graduates
By Noah Reichblum, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Saturday, June 9, 2012
Although other Ivy League schools have selected comedians, celebrities or politicians as commencement speakers this year, the College’s choice of Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp is both interesting and unexpected, according to students interviewed by The Dartmouth.
Teach for America, which Kopp proposed in her Princeton University undergraduate thesis, currently employs more than 9,000 college graduates in teaching positions across the country.
This year, 40 Dartmouth students have been selected to join the program, according to a College press release. Approximately 11 percent of the senior class applied to the two-year program, and more than 120 Dartmouth graduates have worked for Teach for America since 2005.
“I think Ms. Kopp wants to avoid coming off as preachy,” Dennis Zeveloff ’12, a Teach for America campus recruiter, said. “She wants to make sure that every Dartmouth graduate can relate to a message of looking at seemingly intractable problems and persevering toward solutions.”
While the contents of Kopp’s speech are still unknown, students expressed differing opinions on how her words will affect the graduates’ views.
“The assumption people are making is that picking someone who has pioneered such change in the public sector, her advice will be to the end of contributing back to civil society,” Amrita Sankar ’12, the former student body vice president and a member of Palaeopitus society, said. “But as an individual, I think she has much more to offer than just that.”
At Dartmouth, Kopp reached out to several community members regarding advice for the content of her speech, according to Sankar.
“She’s been very proactive in feeling out her audience,” she said.
Some students said they believe that imparting a serious message, rather a than humorous one, will be a critical for Kopp’s speech.
“I really want to be inspired and I want the story to relate to the realities that we’re going to be facing as we enter the real world,” Chinedu Udeh ’12, another Teach for America campus recruiter, said. “Conan [O’Brien] was funny, but he also really got to a point, and that’s the balance.”
O’Brien served as the Commencement speaker in 2011.
In addition to including Dartmouth-specific anecdotes, Udeh said she believes that a good speech must also have a broad appeal.
“If our graduation speech is an inspiring one, I think after reflection it can have an impact, especially for those who might need motivation to pursue a path that’s not traditional, because that’s what [Kopp] did,” Udeh said.
Sankar expressed doubts about the impact of the 20-minute speech on the graduates’ outlook and perspectives.
“It’s a bow and ribbon on this wonderful present that is graduation, but it’s not the real substance,” Sankar said.
Some students have expressed skepticism about Kopp’s selection due to the fact that Chairman of the Board of Trustees Stephen Mandel ’78 sits on Teach for America’s board of directors.
“One negative reaction I’ve heard has been that the choice was not terribly inspired,” Zeveloff said. “Generally, though, people are happy that it’s someone they’ve heard of, unlike Stephen Lewis, while slightly wishing that Conan would come back.”
Lewis, a Canadian politician and broadcaster who served as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s, delivered the College’s Commencement address in 2010.
Kopp has delivered commencement speeches in the past, most recently for Marquette University in 2010 and Washington University in St. Louis in 2009.
Dartmouth’s Council of Honorary Degrees selects the College’s Commencement speaker and the recipients of the College’s honorary degrees. The Commencement speaker traditionally receives an accompanying honorary degree.
Saturday Night Live comedian Andy Samberg gave a Class Day speech at Harvard University. Actor and comedian Steve Carell and celebrity author of “Moneyball,” “The Blind Side” and “The Big Short” Michael Lewis will address Princeton’s graduating class. ABC News reporter Barbara Walters will deliver Yale University’s Class Day address.