Frankie Mancini / Gavel Media

LTE: Where are the Female Commencement Speakers?

By Katherine Carroll, LSOE '20. 

When I received my acceptance letter to Boston College, the first thing I said to my mother was that Amy Poehler was going to give the commencement address at my graduation—and I would make that happen if necessary. Have you ever wondered what the chances are of Amy Poehler—actress, producer, author, and mother—coming back to her alma mater to inspire us as we step out into this world?

So what are the odds of Amy Poehler as the speaker for the class of 2020? I started investigating the list of commencement speakers from years past, and I thought to myself: In the #MeToo era, wouldn’t it be nice to show the entire graduating class a positive female role model?

Soia Mentschikoff. Germaine Breen. Queen Noor of Jordan. Cokie Roberts. Janet Reno. Condoleezza Rice. In Boston College’s 155 years of history, these are the only six women to ever give the university’s commencement speech.

How could there only be six women? Boston College’s history includes several decades when women weren’t expected to be in the workforce. Therefore, they might say, Boston College should not be held accountable for a lack of female speakers from those early years, and I agree. But what about recently?

Across the country, there has been a spike in the number of female commencement speakers over the past two years. For the top twenty colleges of 2017, as listed by Forbes, there were seven female speakers. That is 35% of the colleges, which still does not approach the ratio of women to men in our country. In 2018, there was an increase to fourteen female speakers across the top twenty schools, or 70% of the commencement speakers that year.

Yet in the past 25 years, BC has had only three female commencement speakers. Even more shockingly, in the past ten years BC has not had a single woman deliver the commencement speech, while Boston University has had five women.

The selection of commencement speakers matters to students. Rose Christy, CSOM ‘20, the Outreach Director of Women in Business, describes a commencement speaker as “someone who students can look towards as a mentor or a vision of success, someone they may want to emulate in their postgraduate lives.” Suggestions for commencement speakers from students include Ayanna Pressley, the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and veteran commencement speaker. For students, a commencement speaker is a model of hope for becoming a leader.

Professor Celeste Wells of the Communication Department said that men can also benefit from having female speakers as “there is value for both men and women to see female leaders.” In order to alter our society's gender-based stereotypes, both men and women need to see women in leadership roles.

According to Joy Moore, Interim President of Student Affairs, the selection of a commencement speaker is something that students and the community can get involved with. In an email, Moore wrote, “All BC community members (students, faculty, staff, parents, and friends)...may submit recommendations/suggestions for speakers... The Board of Trustees Committee on Nominations and Governance review recommendations/suggestions for speakers…and makes the final selections."

So, I intend to campaign for a female commencement speaker at BC for the 2020 class. Please click on the Google form below to submit your requests for female commencement speakers. I will report the most frequent suggestions to the whole community and pass them on to the administration.

If you want to get involved you can email your suggestions directly to: [email protected] or follow this link.

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