John Kerry ’66 to speak at Class Day

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Photo by Ken Yanagisawa.

Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 will be the speaker at this year’s Class Day on Sunday, May 18.

Class Day Co-chairs Josh Rubin ’14 and Nia Holston ’14 announced that Kerry will be the graduation weekend’s keynote speaker in an email to the senior class Monday evening. In addition to his current role at the helm of the State Department, Kerry previously served for 28 years as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee for president against George W. Bush ’68 in 2004. Of 15 members of the senior class interviewed, all were positive about Kerry’s selection.

“Secretary Kerry was our top choice both because of his long and distinguished career in public service and also because right now he’s working on some of the toughest issues of the day,” Rubin said.

Since April, Rubin and Holston have solicited feedback from members of the senior class and worked with Special Assistant to the Yale President Penelope Laurans to find a speaker.

Forty-eight years ago, Kerry delivered the “class oration” — now a defunct tradition — to his own Yale College graduating class. His speech, which criticized U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War, made a “lasting and unforgettable impression” on the Yale community, Laurans said.

“No one who knows of that speech, or has read excerpts from it, will be able to listen to him this year without the echo of those words ringing in the background,” Laurans said. “Secretary Kerry exemplifies the Yale tradition of service to society. We are honored to have him come home to Yale.”

On Twitter Monday evening, Kerry said he was “honored to be chosen by [a] terrific group of students just a short 48 years after speaking to my class.”

Students interviewed said they were excited to have such a prominent figure speak during commencement weekend.

“John Kerry, a man who has dedicated his life to serving this country, serves as a great example to us all,” Vinay Nayak ’14 said. “He’s a great choice for Class Day speaker. I’m pumped to hear what he has to say.”

Kerry’s career in public service began shortly after he graduated from Yale, serving in the military for four years after his graduation and receiving three Purple Hearts for his actions in the Vietnam War.

Upon returning to the United States, Kerry took on a prominent role in anti-war advocacy, testifying before Congress about the war. After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1972, Kerry attended Boston College Law School and served as a district attorney. He was elected to the Senate in 1984. Although Kerry initially supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he became a leading critic of the Bush administration’s execution of the Iraq War and proposed an amendment calling for the withdrawal of most armed forces from Iraq in 2006.

Adam Carrington ’14, who previously heard Kerry speak at Yale on the topic of nuclear weapons, said the Secretary is a dynamic and engaging speaker.

Abby Bok ’14, who is from Boston, called Kerry a “great Massachusetts statesman,” adding that she is excited to hear what Kerry has to say about his lifetime of public service.

Several students interviewed said they hope Kerry will discuss how his time at Yale impacted his career both as a senator and now as Secretary of State.

“It probably means a lot to him too that he can give a speech at the institution from [which] he graduated,” Arvind Mohan ’14 said. “He’ll be able to impart some more specific advice than some other speakers that we’ve had.”

Jake Nelson GRD ’13, who worked in the office of the Secretary of State last summer and will spend the next two years working for the State Department, said Kerry’s selection is a reflection of the University’s ongoing globalization efforts. Nelson added that although it is unclear how successful Kerry has been as Secretary of State, his tenure has reflected his decisive personality and leadership skills.

Charles Kwenin ’14 and Stefano Malfitano ’14, two students from Ghana and Italy respectively, said they were pleased with the announcement because Kerry is a globally recognized figure.

“I’m really happy because he’s one of the very few American personalities that my family would know,” Malfitano said, adding that his parents were delighted when they heard the news. Kwenin said his parents would not have recognized Cory Booker, last year’s Class Day speaker.

Spencer Alexander ’14 said Kerry is an example of a speaker whose reputation transcends his particular industry or field. As someone who is not very interested in politics, Alexander said he did not know who Cory Booker was.

While at Yale, Kerry also served as the President of the Yale Political Union and Chairman of the Liberal Party.

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