Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

LTE: We Got the Female Commencement Speaker. But Who Did Students Want?

By Katherine Carroll, LSOE '20.

Boston College has selected Isabel Capeloa Gil, the first female president of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, to serve as the first woman to give the Commencement address in 13 years.

It has been a trend for BC to pick white male leaders who are rooted in social justice or Catholicism. However, last year, the Board of Trustees chose the Archbishop of Atlanta, Wilton D. Gregory, a Black leader in his community. Now this year BC has chosen a woman.

Is this BC’s attempt to try and include more diverse speakers? Next year can we see a Black woman speak at Commencement?

If BC students were to have their way, the answer would be yes. Forty-five students reported in a survey that they would like to see Michelle Obama deliver the Commencement address.

In light of the recent announcement of BC’s seventh woman to speak at Commencement, I wanted to share with you, the readers, the results of my survey that was previously published as a letter to the editor, "Where Are All the Female Commencement Speakers?," in February.

I have received 214 responses to the survey at the time of this article. Of the responses, 209 said “yes” they would like to see a female Commencement speaker, while the five “no”'s were reported by men. Michelle Obama topped the list as the most wanted Commencement speaker, followed by 26 write-ins for Boston College alum, Amy Poehler, and 20 write-ins for the first Black person to be elected to Congress representing Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley (Pressley spoke here in 2017 at BC’s Women’s Summit).

Other notable write-ins include U.S. Representative newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, media superstar Oprah, legendary talk-show host and LGBTQ activist Ellen Degeneres, and legend Ruth Bader-Ginsburg. One voter did bring up an interesting fact in defense of her hopes of seeing Oprah take the stage at Commencement: They noted that Interim Vice President for Student Affairs, Joy Moore, has a connection to Oprah, as Moore served as the principal for the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls in South Africa.

While students hope to see their role models come to BC and offer them advice as they step into adult life, who would students like to see that fit BC’s molds of embodying social justice and Catholicism? There are many Catholic women who demonstrate the values of social justice promoted by BC who could be great choices for Commencement speaker.

Students suggested Sister Jean Hughes, Sister Chris Schenk, Sister Simone Campbell, Sister Norma Pimentel, and Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart. Another interesting suggestion by two students was Denise Morrison, BC grad of 1975 and former CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Morrison would be a great speaker, as she is a powerful former female CEO and BC alum.

Who do you want to give you inspirational advice as you leave your undergraduate experience at BC? If you do not see your favorite powerful female on this list, you can still make your voice heard! You can continue to share your suggestions for the next Commencement speaker by following this link.

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