Senior council narrows in on Class Day speaker

Seniors need not hold their breaths much longer because the Class Day speaker will likely be announced in the next two weeks.

The Senior Class Council has honed in on one person with whom it is negotiating, University Associate Secretary Donald Filer said. Administrators are helping the Class Day chairs secure a speaker. Class Day co-chair Addisu Demissie ’01 refused to name the top candidate but said “speaking ability” is a top priority of the council in selecting a speaker this year.

“We help whenever the person is difficult to reach,” Yale President Richard Levin said, “and, since he is, we’re helping — I don’t want to give it away, though.”

Class Day, which this year falls on May 20 — the day before Commencement, is a day of celebration for seniors and features a keynote speaker.

Filer said he hopes the speaker will be confirmed by Spring Break.

“They have picked an interesting person, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Filer said.

Demissie said he does not want to name the speaker until the deal is finalized.

“You never want the second, third or fourth choice to know that they weren’t the first choice,” Demissie said.

He added that the Senior Class Council will continue to eye other candidates even after they have a confirmed speaker.

“We are always ready to reopen the process. We’re not stopping,” Demissie said. “Even if somebody has confirmed we still wouldn’t be stopping because anyone could renege.”

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed to give the Class Day talk in October 1997 for the Class of 1998 but cancelled in January. The 1998 class council had to scramble to find a replacement. After contacting Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73 — who at that time was first lady — and comedian Conan O’Brien, council members asked David Gergen ’63, a member of the Yale Corporation, to give the talk.

Demissie said he does not want this year’s speaker to back out at the last minute.

“We’re being super cautious,” he said. “We just don’t want to back ourselves into a corner.”

Even though the past three speakers have been Yale alumni, Demissie said getting a Yale graduate has not been a main factor in this year’s search. On the Class Day survey this fall, seniors ranked Yale affiliation as relatively low priority for a speaker. Instead, members of the Class of 2001 voted for a speaker with good oratory skills.

The Class Day co-chairs, Demisse and Theodore DeWitt ’01, watched video tapes of potential speakers to narrow down the list with oratory skills in mind.

Journalist Bob Woodward ’65, political advisor Gergen, and news anchor Tom Brokaw were the last three speakers.

In addition to hearing the keynote speech on Class Day, seniors are honored with awards, and the class history and Ivy Ode, a poem written by a graduating student, are presented.

Comments