The honor of delivering the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Memorial Keynote Address at the University’s annual symposium
is reserved for people who are prominent in their fields. Harvard
law Prof. Lani Guinier, the keynote speaker for this year’s
symposium, is no exception.

Laura Wong
Grace Lee Boggs was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Keynote Speaker for the symposium last year. FILE PHOTO

A graduate of the Radcliffe College and Yale Law School, Guinier
worked for the Carter administration and for the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense
Fund. She made waves when President Clinton revoked Guinier as his
nomination for the head of the Civil Rights Division of the
Department of Justice. The limelight remained, even though her
nomination did not, largely because of her highly acclaimed book,
“Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback into a New
Vision of Social Justice.”

The MLK Symposium Planning Committee, made up of students,
faculty and administrators who organize the main activities of the
month chose, Guinier for her extensive accomplishments.

In fact, it was with student pressure that the University
decided to make it a holiday. Thus, the committee encourages
students to join the planning process. The committee, various
schools and organizations collaborate to offer myriad events for
the symposium. As Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs John
Matlock recognizes, “You can celebrate MLK in many ways:
dance, speakers, community service and children’s programs.
The University celebrates him in so many different ways.”

Previous speakers include actor and director Edward James Olmos
in 2001, University alum and renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr.
Benjamin Carson in 2002 and author and civil rights activist Grace
Lee Boggs last year.

The diversity of speakers and events allows people to learn
about a variety of issues. Speakers vary from the president of the
United Farm Workers of America, Arturo Rodriguez, to jazz divas
Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Regina Carter. “I
think it is appropriate for people to reflect on what happened in
those days because at times I think people romanticize the civil
rights movement.” He continues, “It’s important
to recognize that people put it on the line to advance education
access, social justice and civil rights.”

Along with the LSA theme semester, “Brown v. Board,
50 Years Later: Still Separate? Still Unequal?” this
year’s keynote speech is about ‘Serving the
dream’. As Guinier explains, “The theme of the talk is
that there has been a creeping disconnect between the public
mission of higher education and the admission criteria that many
schools use, as well as the expectations of students
themselves.”

Guinier hopes to present the link between higher education and
society as a whole. “Higher education has a role to play in
our multiracial democracy and many institutions of higher education
have neglected to play the leadership role that they can and
should, not just because I think they can and should, but because
their very mission statements exhort them to do this.”

Her very innovative arguments center around the message
merit-based admissions present to students — both those
denied and accepted into the University. The committee is excited
that such a prominent figure in the debate will present the keynote
address.

Matlock hopes that students leave the symposium with a feeling
of optimism since, “Individuals in this life can make a
difference. Students, especially college students, have always been
prominent in the civil rights movement. There has been a strong
participation of young people.”

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