Seniors rally behind Stewart for commencement

by Amanda Cohen | 11/8/05 6:00am

Natalie Allan '06 has wanted Jon Stewart to speak at this year's Commencement exercises since her freshman year.

"Aside from Nelson Mandela, he is far and away the best option: intelligent, opinionated and making enormous social change. Plus he's the wittiest guy in the world today," Allan said.

Allan is one of 104 students who have joined a facebook.com group aimed at snagging The Daily Show host for the 2006 graduation ceremony. The time window for student input into the College's choice of a Commencement speaker, however, closed last month.

In September, the Council of Honorary Degrees sent students expected to graduate in June a letter asking them to nominate the year's honorary degree recipients and Commencement speaker. According to sources on the committee, whose proceedings are sealed, 43 students returned nominations, over 20 of which were for Stewart.

Council member and English professor Cleopatra Mathis said student opinion is considered when choosing honorary degree recipients, one of whom is chosen to speak at Commencement.

"It's a wonderful committee, and we work very hard to try to listen to the College and listen to the students," Mathis said.

The College will announce honorary degree recipients during the Spring term. Until then, choices are kept secret. While the council's deliberations are confidential, Mathis said members reviewed a candidate at their last meeting because of strong student support.

The council, which is made up of one faculty member from each of Dartmouth's graduate schools, three faculty members from the arts and sciences and the 2006 class president, reviews student recommendations and compiles a list of recommended degree recipients.

Recommendations are not limited to student nominations, which Mathis said can sometimes be controversial.

"We're celebrating students, and we don't want a situation where we're fighting off hoards of political activity," Mathis said.

Once they compile a final list, the council presents its choices to College President James Wright, who forwards the recommendations to the Board of Trustees. The Board considers this list, but is not limited to it, and works with the president to determine who he will invite to receive honorary degrees at Commencement and which one of these honorees will be asked to speak.

Many worthy candidates do not receive honorary degrees because of a need for diverse group of recipients, Mathis said.

"Sometimes a candidate doesn't fit the right profile," Mathis said. "We want to have a well-rounded group of candidates."

Some invitees decline their offers because of busy schedules or Dartmouth's isolated location. But Roland Adams, director of media relations, said the College generally receives high positive response rates, with an average of seven to nine honorary degree recipients ultimately attending Commencement exercises.

As far as the possibility of Jon Stewart coming to campus, Mathis declined to comment. Dartmouth students, however, are vocal in their hopes that this year's Commencement speaker will appeal to student interests.

"One thing is for sure: the '06 class wants to remember the speaker's words as much as they want to remember their names getting called," Adam Michaelson '06 said.

Will Canestaro '06 agreed about the importance of the speech.

"I am interested in trying to get a Commencement speaker who is not only a leader in his field but also someone who would be entertaining," he said. "I'm personally very surprised by the lack of student input. It probably stems from a sense of complacency among students that the selection process will happen regardless of student input."

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