Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton GRD ’63 LAW ’64 has been selected to give the address at the Class Day ceremony on May 22, senior class officers announced Wednesday.
An eight-term delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the District of Columbia — which does not have a vote in Congress — Norton has played a leading role advocating causes such as civil rights, women’s rights and full voting representation for the citizens of D.C. Norton, a Democrat, was appointed as the first female chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by President Carter and has served as a fellow on the Yale Corporation.
The senior class officers responsible for Norton’s selection, secretary Alistair Anagnostou ’05 and treasurer Brian Goldman ’05, chose Norton to speak largely because of her dedication to civil rights, Anagnostou said.
“If I had to pick one reason why we picked Congresswoman Norton, it is because we are so impressed by her civil rights record and feel that is directly relevant to our lives today,” Anagnostou said. “I think civil rights is one of those topics that, no matter what your political beliefs are, you can relate to.”
Norton may speak about voter representation of D.C. citizens and homeland security, Norton spokesperson Doxie McCoy said.
“She’s always happy to come back to her alma mater and appreciates getting the invitation from the school,” McCoy said.
Several seniors contacted on Wednesday night said they had not heard of Norton and had expected a speaker with a bigger national reputation.
“I was kind of hoping it would be someone I’d heard of, anyone I would recognize,” Lisa Edelson ’05 said. “We’ve gotten bigger-name people in the past.”
The past four Class Day speakers have been documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, journalist Tom Friedman, New York Governor George Pataki ’67 and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73, now a U.S. Senator from New York. In 2001, President George W. Bush ’68 spoke at the commencement exercise.
At the other Ivies, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is speaking at the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement and Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots and a Columbia alumnus, is speaking at his alma mater’s Class Day.
Karl Gunderson ’05 also said he was expecting a more prominent speaker, adding that he would have liked to hear someone speak on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which took place just weeks after the class of 2005 entered their freshman year.
“I was kind of surprised by the fact that it was a name that I didn’t recognize at all,” Gunderson said. “I was hoping for one of the big names who has gone to Yale and has had a lot of personal experience to speak to us.”
Robert Bischof ’05, an international student from Germany, said he had not heard of Norton but would have liked to hear Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein ’95 or U.S. Sen. John Kerry ’67, the former Democratic presidential candidate.
“John Kerry would have been perfect,” Bischof said. “It would have been a great speech — it would have been someone I really would have loved to see.”
The class officers collected input and advice from seniors before collaborating with Levin’s office to make a final selection, Anagnostou said.
“While every student may not have heard of Congresswoman Norton, she is a figure of great national importance,” Anagnostou said. “Having consulted with many students about the selection of the Class Day speaker, it was an extremely common — in fact prevalent — view that people would rather have someone who made a great speech rather than made great headlines.”
He would not name other speakers that were under consideration or if others were issued invitations to address the class of 2005.
A few students said they were enthusiastic about the selection of Norton.
“By picking someone who is for civil rights and those types of ideals, it shows that they’re at least supporting her views, which I think is important,” Candace Arthur ’05 said. “It’s a move in the right direction.”
Most students who said they had not heard of Norton said they think she may deliver a strong speech, even though she is not as well known as some other Yale alumni.
“I was kind of disappointed because I was expecting someone more famous,” Reuben Grinberg ’05 said. “But then after reading more about her … I think she’ll be a great speaker, and it’ll be a lot of fun.”