This story has been updated to reflect the version in print on April 25.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power ’92 will be the speaker at this year’s Class Day on May 22.
Class Day co-chairs Benjamin Ackerman ’16 and Katayon Ghassemi ’16 made the announcement in an email to the senior class Friday morning. Before becoming America’s top diplomat to the U.N. in January 2013, Power served as special assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama and a senior director on the National Security Council. She previously covered the Yugoslav Wars as a journalist and served as founding executive director of a human rights policy center at Harvard from 1998 to 2002. Power is the third Obama administration official to speak at Class Day in three years: Vice President Joe Biden addressed graduating seniors last year, and Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 did the same in 2014.
Ackerman and Ghassemi said Power’s passion for human rights and public service, as well as the fact that she is a Yale College graduate, made her an appealing choice for Class Day speaker.
“Power is incredibly well-spoken and well-respected in her field,” Ackerman said. “She has made it her career and life’s passion to fight for the underdog. That is something that really resonated with us. Beyond that, she is also an incredible speaker. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s been to Class Day one time before.”
Penelope Laurans, master of Jonathan Edwards College and Class Day adviser, said she appreciates that Power is a Yalie and that she is a talented public speaker. Based on previous Class Day ceremonies, Laurans said it is crucial that the keynote speaker engage all members of a diverse audience.
Ghassemi added that in searching for someone to help guide seniors into the next phase of their lives, she could not think of someone better than Power, who attended a Class Day of her own more than two decades ago.
“She has lived a life with great moral conviction,” Ghassemi said. “To have that example and to see that person speak and give a wonderful speech — we’re so excited.”
But five of seven seniors interviewed said they only learned who Power was on Friday, after the announcement had been made, and just two said they were especially excited for the speech.
Julia Schwarz ’16, who did not know Power’s name prior to the announcement, said she is looking forward to hearing what Power has to say not because she is terribly familiar with the ambassador’s background, but instead because she has been told Power is a good writer. Schwarz added that her family seems to be much more excited for Power’s speech than her undergraduate peers, who have expressed mixed opinions on the Class Day guest.
“None of us know who she is, and that in itself said something,” Sarah Bull ’16 said.
Still, Daniel Hamidi ’18 said Power is someone whom he respects greatly, most especially because of the conviction with which she has led her life. Hamidi added that he is sure she has significant pieces of wisdom to share with the class of 2016.
On April 18, a vehicle in Power’s official caravan struck and killed a seven-year-old boy while driving to a refugee camp in Cameroon. Hours later, Power visited the family of the boy to offer condolences and express her grief.
Though tragic, Ackerman said the accident in Cameroon should not impact Class Day.
“I don’t think they’re connected,” Ackerman said. “While it’s unfortunate and devastating that the boy was killed, we should not lose sight of the fact that she was in the region doing amazing work — and it is because of that work that we are bringing her here.”
In 2003, Power won a Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” about the United States and how it understated, responded to and ignored genocide in the 20th century.