Petition calls for Tina Fey for 'U' graduation speaker

By Taylor Wizner, For the Daily
Published October 5, 2011

A new name has entered the ring in the battle for the University’s Spring Commencement 2012 speaker.

A student-led petition that calls for actress and comedian Tina Fey to be the keynote speaker has been circulating on campus. The petition, in competition with another for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to be the speaker, has amassed more than 980 signatures since it was started on Sunday.

LSA senior Jessica Kursman, who started the petition, said she’d like to see Fey deliver the commencement address because of her accomplishments and humor.

“I chose Tina Fey because she has broken a lot of gender barriers, and I thought that she could produce a pretty well written as well as funny speech,” Kursman said.

Kursman is in the process of submitting a formal application to nominate Fey as the speaker. She said another reason she wants Fey to deliver the graduation address is because she’d like to have a female commencement speaker. The University has not had a female keynote speaker for the Spring Commencement ceremony since 2006 when journalist Christiane Amanpour gave the address.

“It has been too long since Michigan had a woman speaker,” Kursman said, "and I think Tina is a great role model.”

Fey is known for her work on NBC’s sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live and the TV show 30 Rock. She starred in the films “Baby Mama,” “Date Night” and “Mean Girls,” which she also wrote. Fey has received seven Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, four Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Writers Guild of America Awards.

Though Kursman said she originally thought of Fey as a speaker several years ago, she put the plan into action after hearing about the nomination of Zuckerberg.

“It became a petition because there was a movement for Mark Zuckerberg, and I just really was displeased with the idea of him giving a speech to our graduating class,” Kursman said.

LSA senior Jake Steinerman started the petition in support of Zuckerberg this past summer. However, Kursman said interest in Fey has already surpassed Zuckerberg.

“In the first two days, we garnered over 600 signatures for the petition,” Kursman said. “The Zuckerberg petition has been up since the summer and only has 250.”

She added that because University commencement speakers traditionally receive an honorary degree, the nominees must meet specific criteria set by the Honorary Degree Committee, which consists of two University students, faculty, alumni and administrators.

“The nominee should have demonstrable distinguished achievement in an activity related to the University's missions of research and scholarship, education, or service,” or a specific connection to the University or the state of Michigan, the criteria states.

The nominees approved by the committee are then shown to University President Mary Sue Coleman. In response to the recommendations for commencement speakers, Lisa Connolly, project manager in the University’s Office of the President, wrote in e-mail interview that Coleman carefully considers all options presented by students.

“President Coleman appreciates recommendations for commencement speakers and does take them into consideration,” Connolly wrote.

Like Steinerman, who has promoted Zuckerberg for speaker through Facebook, Kursman said the social networking site has been the best way to gain support for the Fey campaign. But she said spreading the word by mouth is also important, as her application and petition are due today.

“(If) students sign the petition, it would be greatly appreciated because I know there are a lot of students out there that would love for Tina Fey to speak, and I think she would be a really great fit,” Kursman said.

Correction appended:A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the last time the University had a female keynote speaker at Spring Commencement.