U.S. Secretary of Energy to be 2010 Commencement speaker
Steven Chu will deliver the Commencement address in Brookings Quad to the graduating class of 2010, Chancellor Mark Wrighton announced on Wednesday evening.
Chu is the secretary of energy for the United States and has long been an advocate for alternative energy sources. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and helps carry out the president’s visions for investing in alternative and renewable energy, creating “green” jobs, reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil and combating global warming.
Chu won a Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work in physics with Claude Cohen Tannoudji and William Phillips. The trio figured out how to use laser beams and extreme cold to stop single atoms from moving, allowing for easier examination of them.
“I am delighted that Steven Chu has agreed to serve as Washington University’s 2010 Commencement speaker,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton said in a press statement. “One of the greatest challenges facing us is to develop energy resources that are affordable, abundant and environmentally sustainable. The opportunity for our graduates to hear from our nation’s leader on energy is a tremendous honor. The fact that Dr. Chu has a special connection to Washington University—his father served on the faculty in our School of Engineering & Applied Science—makes his participation even more meaningful.”
Senior Kady McFadden, a member of the Climate Justice Alliance, shared Wrighton’s enthusiasm.
“I think it’s a really great choice,” she said. “I’m very excited about it.”
Junior and fellow Climate Justice Alliance member Peter Murrey agreed.
“I think it’s very appropriate,” he said. “He’s [Chu is] an outspoken advocate for renewable technology and choosing him as a speaker shows that our University is committed to it.”
Having Chu as the Commencement speaker comes at a particularly salient time: Several hours before the University’s announcement on Wednesday, Obama delivered a speech proposing opening up the southeast coastline of the Atlantic, the eastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling. The coastline north of New Jersey will continue to be closed to drilling, as will Alaska’s Bristol Bay, which environmentalists consider especially sensitive.
This is the first time these areas have been opened to drilling, and the news is contrary to the wishes of many of Obama’s environmentally conscious supporters.
This year in particular was filled with environmental student activism. Student Union passed a resolution condemning the term “clean coal” and urging the administration to look into alternative energy sources. In light of the resolution, students are writing Chu a letter requesting that he not use the term “clean coal” in his speech.
“Energy policy is going to be such an important issue in the next sphere of Obama’s presidency, and educating the Washington University community on this is very important,” Murrey said. “Hopefully, we will bring scientific terminology to the table.”
McFadden also thinks that the University is sending mixed messages to the students by choosing Chu.
“It’s like the University is valuing him and energy choices yet at the same time making major cuts to the environmental studies program,” McFadden said. “I think we should be a little more cohesive in this statement to allow education and exploration in the areas of environmental studies so that’s something that they value when they’re also cutting major resources to students who want to learn about the subject.”
Chu was appointed as the 12th secretary of energy and was sworn into office on Jan. 21, 2009. He is originally from St. Louis, as his father was a chemical engineering professor at the University.
Prior to Chu’s appointment, he was the director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he successfully led its pursuit of new alternative and renewable energies. He also was a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
During the Commencement exercises on Friday, May 21, Chu will receive an honorary degree. The University has not yet released the names of the other honorary degree recipients.