As two seniors, we couldn’t help but be disappointed at the announcement of Dick Costolo as the 2013 Spring Commencement speaker. Sure, he’s the chief executive officer of one of the most monumental social movements of our time and a 1985 University alum. There’s no doubt that Costolo has all the qualifications necessary to make a meaningful and memorable address, one we will undoubtedly enjoy and remember. But Costolo represents yet another layer of a disturbing pattern in commencement speakers.
In the past 24 years, 71 percent of spring commencement speakers have been male. In the past 10 years, only two speakers were female: Jennifer Granholm (as part of the tradition of the Michigan governor speaking), and Christiane Amanpour. But what’s most disturbing is the fact that in the past 24 years, out of the seven total women who have spoken, only one — Antonia Novello who spoke in 1994 — was an alum. This sends the message that even though women have been admitted to the University since 1870, almost none are accomplished enough to serve as a commencement speaker.
A commencement speaker not only serves as a role model and a purveyor of the University’s missions and values, but also offers inspiration to students as they step into the world. For women and men heading into their careers, a female speaker demonstrates that women can — and do — succeed in leadership and offer alternate perspectives.
We’re frustrated that the selection committee has seemed to overlook so many great female candidates in the past decades — there is certainly no lack of impressive women. For example, Alexa Canady, a 1971 graduate, is the former chief of neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and the first African-American woman to become a neurosurgeon. Melinda Gates is co-chair of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — the largest private foundation and an instrumental organization in initiating global public health interventions. Or, perhaps in keeping with this year’s business theme, there’s Ursula Burns, the chief executive at Xerox and the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company. There’s also the formidable Barbara Walters, an American icon since the 1970s.
This list, impressive as it is, only scratches the surface of available female leaders to inspire graduates of the University. Is it truly that difficult to find a female commencement speaker who demonstrates women — not just men — can be the leaders and the best?
Anjali Bisht is an LSA senior. Chelsea Jedele is a Ross senior.