Cory Booker named Class Day speaker

Cory Booker LAW ’97, Newark mayor and potential United States Senate candidate, will be delivering this year’s Class Day address on May 19.

Class Day Co-Chairs Jonny Barclay ’13 and Chantal Ghanney ’13 announced Booker as the Class Day speaker in an email to the class of 2013 on Monday night. Booker, currently in his second term of office, is a rising figure on the national political scene, and Barclay and Ghanney told the News they chose him for his skills in oratory and hands-on attitude.

“In our mind, he represents this new, modern generation of public servants,” Barclay said. “We think that his amazing work in Newark and his ability to engage his constituents has really made a mark, and that sort of presence and force of character is something we’re very excited about.”

Barclay and Ghanney said Booker topped their list of potential Class Day speakers from “day one.” They started brainstorming options last spring with Special Assistant to the President and Jonathan Edwards College Master Penelope Laurans, who serves as the administrative liaison to the Class Day co-chairs. The co-chairs also reached out to the Senior Class Council and other members of the class of 2013 to gauge their peers’ interest in a certain type of speaker and collaborated with Laurans to select a final choice.

Ghanney said she was impressed after seeing videos of Booker speaking, including his Commencement speech at Stanford University last year.

“I like to believe that that’s just a warm-up for Yale,” she added.

The University does not provide Class Day speakers with monetary compensation, and Ghanney declined to comment on how the University extended the invitation to Booker.

Last year, journalist Barbara Walters delivered the Class Day address, and previous Class Day speakers include actor Tom Hanks, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, former New York Gov. George Pataki ’67, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and journalists Fareed Zakaria ’86 and Anderson Cooper ’89.

Booker has served as the mayor of Newark, N.J., since 2006, and his accomplishments in office include supporting charter schools in Newark and reducing the city’s crime rates. He has also established a public persona outside of City Hall for spontaneous charitable actions such as shoveling a Newark resident’s driveway and rescuing his neighbor from a house fire.

Last month, Booker formed a United States Senatorial Campaign Committee by filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, completing the first step toward fundraising for New Jersey’s 2014 Senate race. In January, Booker told “Meet the Press” that he intends to run for the Senate, but he has not officially announced his campaign.

University President Richard Levin said he is excited about Booker’s selection.

“Cory Booker is an extraordinary young leader who’s done a tremendous job in Newark,” he said.

Levin said the school extended an invitation to Booker to speak at Class Day before speculation began about his 2014 senatorial campaign, adding that his “extraordinary work” as mayor has qualified him to be speaker, future possibilities aside.

Seniors interviewed expressed mixed responses to the choice of Booker as Class Day speaker. Four students said they look forward to hearing from an energetic political figure, but four said they are not particularly excited because they knew very little about Booker before the announcement.

David Sack ’13 said he has been a “big fan” of Booker since hearing him on National Public Radio three years ago.

“He’s really interesting — I think he’ll be president one day,” Sack said. “He’s kind of a dark-horse candidate [as the Senior Class Day speaker], but in 10 years everyone’s going to be really happy that they heard him.”

Andres Fuentes-Afflick ’13 said he generally admires Booker but felt “underwhelmed” by the announcement.

“I think for all the juice Yale has, they could have done better,” Fuentes-Afflick added.

Booker has delivered eight commencement speeches since 2009.

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