Students nominate Mark Zuckerberg for graduation speaker

By K.C. Wassman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 21, 2011

After protests erupted following the announcement that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder would be the commencement speaker last spring, some members of the class of 2012 are determined to find a speaker they want to hear.

In an effort to do this, LSA senior Jake Steinerman started a petition over the summer to have Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg serve as the keynote speaker for the 2012 Spring Commencement ceremony.

“The whole point of having the speakers is to inspire the graduating class, to take what you’ve heard and apply it to the real world, and I think his story, to me at least, has been very inspiring,” Steinerman said.

Steinerman’s petition currently has about 200 signatures, and he has continued to raise awareness for his cause on — you guessed it — Facebook.

“I’m not relying solely on Facebook, but I think it would be awesome if it could be driven by social media,” Steinerman said. “That would sort of prove its case further and show that what he’s done has a tremendous effect on our lives.”

Though Steinerman hopes support for his petition will guarantee Zuckerberg as the commencement speaker, there are many steps that need to be taken before he becomes eligible — including submitting a nomination to the University's Honorary Degree Committee.

Traditionally, commencement speakers are awarded an honorary degree for their achievements, but before they can receive their degree, they must get approval from the committee, which is comprised of University officials, professors, alumni and two student representatives.

The committee typically meets twice a year — once in November and once in April — and selects people the committee members believe meet a set criteria. Their selections are then shown to University President Mary Sue Coleman, who recommends any number of people to receive an honorary degree and one person to receive a degree and speak at commencement. Her recommendations then go to the University’s Board of Regents for approval.

People can nominate speakers by filling out a form located on the website of the Office of the President. The deadline for submitting a nomination is Oct. 7.

According to the committee’s nomination criteria, one of the committee’s primary considerations is that the recipient has “distinguished achievement in an activity related to the University’s missions of research and scholarship, education or service.”

Lisa Connolly, project manager in the Office of the President, said though the committee provides a selection of potential speakers and honorary degree recipients to Coleman, Coleman likes to hear feedback from students about who they want as a commencement speaker — whether it be in the form of a petition with hundreds of signatures or just one student’s opinion.

“I don’t think there’s a magic number as far as signatures (on the petition),” Connolly said. “She takes all requests she gets from students very seriously. Even if it just came in an e-mail from a student saying 'it would be great if we could get this person to be a commencement speaker.'"

According to Connolly, another way students can contribute to the selection process is to bring desired commencement speaker names to the attention of the student representatives on the Honorary Degree Committee. This year the student representatives are LSA senior Carly Goldberg and Rackham student Neal Rakesh.

Goldberg said she is very open to hearing students’ ideas for the commencement speakers.

“I really encourage students to contact me ...” Goldberg said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who are really passionate about people who should speak.”

Goldberg started a Facebook page titled “Who do you want for Winter and Spring Commencement Speaker?” on which people can post ideas for who they want to be the keynote speakers.

“It’s pretty informal because it’s through social networking, but I think it’s one of the best ways to reach people,” Goldberg said.

In regard to the petition to have Zuckerberg as the Spring Commencement speaker, Goldberg said she is glad people are starting petitions for speakers, but is not too familiar with Zuckerberg’s background.

“I honestly don’t know much about him,” Goldberg said. “I’ve really only seen ‘The Social Network.’ If students sign the petition, I’d love to hear about how he contributed to research, scholarship, education or service.”

Zuckerberg developed Facebook in 2004 with some of his classmates while attending Harvard University. The site later grew to have 500 million users as of July 21, 2010. With a net of $6.9 billion worth reported in Forbes magazine, Zuckerberg signed a promise in 2010 to donate at least half of his wealth to charity over time.

LSA senior Colette Cascarilla said she would support Mark Zuckerberg as a commencement speaker.

“I think that would definitely be entertaining,” Cascarilla said. “He’s an entrepreneur so he’d have good advice. There could definitely be a lot worse picks, like last year. I think it’d be something fresh and fun. I’d be all for it.”