Journalist, novelist to deliver commencement address, students react
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Anna Quindlen will deliver the commencement address for the class of 2017, Chancellor Mark Wrighton announced at the annual senior class toast Tuesday, which prompted mixed reactions from the senior class.
Quindlen, a former New York Times reporter and columnist, won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her nationally syndicated column “Public and Private.” She is also the author of eight best-selling novels and the first author to have books appear on the New York Times’ fiction, nonfiction and self-help best-seller lists.
In addition to delivering the address at Commencement May 19, Quindlen will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
Many students did not recognize Quindlen’s name at first and applause was scattered following Wrighton’s announcement. However, seniors who knew of Quindlen’s background in journalism said they were excited about her unique perspective on social issues.
“As a journalist, social critic, memoirist and novelist, Anna Quindlen has made a life of pointing out the foibles and the strengths of American life, and I am looking forward to her message to our graduating class,” Wrighton said in a statement to Student Life.
In the past decade, Washington University has selected several prominent individuals to give commencement speeches. These individuals include author Elie Wiesel, then-Newark mayor Cory Booker, and most recently, Rep. John Lewis. While Quindlen’s name may not be as recognizable, Wrighton pointed to her message and mission as what makes her an exciting pick.
Senior Risham Singh said she was pleased that a woman will address the graduating class, but would have preferred a more politically active speaker.
“I’m glad that they chose a journalist, and I’m glad that they chose a woman. I’d have loved someone more overtly political, but I don’t want to make too many judgments until I’ve read up on her columns and familiarized myself with her previous commencement speeches,” Singh said.
While he isn’t familiar with her work, senior Adam Kaminsky said he was impressed by Quindlen’s Pulitzer Prize and that he anticipates an insightful speech from the former opinion columnist.
“I wasn’t at the senior toast so I found out we were getting Anna Quindlen when I heard two of my friends arguing [whether] a Pulitzer Prize became less impressive over time. Personally, that’s more Pulitzer Prizes than I’ll ever have so it seems pretty impressive to me. I’m not really familiar with Quindlen, but I’m sure she’ll have some sage advice and perspective as a writer and critic,” Kaminsky said.
Senior Abhik Tambe said he believes that Quindlen’s depth of experience in multiple styles of writing, including fiction and nonfiction, provides her with a unique outlook on life.
“It should be cool to have a scholar, someone who writes for a living. It should be an interesting perspective,” Tanbe said.
The election of a commencement speaker is initiated by the University’s board of trustees, who hold several meetings to determine a list of nominees for honorary degree recipients and commencement speaker, according to Wrighton.
“Each year a large number of very talented, accomplished people are suggested for this role. We have a committee of the board of trustees that considers candidates for honorary degrees and for commencement speaker. As Chancellor, and on behalf of the board of trustees, I make the invitation to the commencement speaker and others who receive honorary degrees. The awarding of honorary degrees requires unanimous approval of the board of trustees,” Wrighton said in an emailed statement.
Additional reporting by Sam Seekings