So exciting – my very first post, and it’s a scoop.

Williams announced its commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients today. You can check out the Press Release for the full details.

For those without the time to go read:

Acclaimed artist and sculptor Richard Serra will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 219th Commencement on Sunday, June 1. Actor, director, and author LeVar Burton will be the baccalaureate speaker on Saturday afternoon, May 31. Former Secretary of State George Shultz will deliver an invited lecture on Saturday morning, May 31.

During the Commencement ceremonies on June 1, President of the College Morton Owen Schapiro will confer honorary degrees on Serra, Burton, Shultz, British economist Frances Cairncross, financial director and advisor Robert Lipp, and women’s health advocate Dr. Nawal Nour.

And now for the commentary aspect that will possibly make David regret letting me post: is it just me, or is Williams still following the not exclusive, but seemingly common, pattern of people of color speaking at baccalaureate and not graduation? I suppose I should preface this by commenting that I’m not in any way saying that the commencement speakers are not deserving….that is not what this is about. We have been lucky at Williams to have a distinguished group of speakers who admittedly have not all been white (and shockingly an entire 5 out of the last 35 have been women). It was, however, a running joke when I was at Williams that when we heard the list of the honorary degree recipients, we could guess who would be the baccalaureate speaker – or at least who wouldn’t speak on the big stage. True, it is a pretty great honor to be asked to speak at Williams at all, but all things being equal (accomplished, talented, powerful, inspiring people worthy of coming to Williams to speak) there was a perception by students that there was a tendency not to let some people speak at commencement.

The list of commencement speakers is on Wikipedia (although some of the links seem to be to other people with the same names, notably Chuck Davis). It is not exclusively white dudes, but it is overwhelmingly. And before the usual “but until 1970 Williams was mostly white guys” chorus starts – being an alum is not a prerequisite for speaking at graduation.

I don’t have time to run through every press release for the last however many years (and they are only archived to 2001 on the Williams website), but a quick look shows that we had a white grad speaker and person of color as baccalaureate speaker in 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001 – and we will in 2008. So in 2006 they broke with tradition. This may just be me seeing things that aren’t really there, but, like the amazing lack of younger alums, women, and alums of color on the Board of Trustees, such oversights can cast a negative light on the Williams we all know and love. This struck me tonight given the flap about Geraldine Ferraro’s recent comments and her “don’t call me a racist, I’m oppressed, too” response. You don’t have to consciously be a racist to say things or do things that are taken to be totally insensitive. I just think it is worth pointing out that this tendency was noticeable enough that students at Williams joked about it.

And hello everyone! I promise to enjoy the arguments that are sure to ensue from any posts I make. I’ll try to get a real bio up at some point soon. Basics now: graduated in 2001 with Religion major and African-American Studies concentration. I was a nonprofit fundraiser and then an organizer for a few years before heading to law school. I graduated in May, and now I’m in DC as an honors attorney with one of the banking agencies (which means I can’t comment too closely on any issue relating to work).

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