April 4, 2001

Janet Reno Confirmed As Graduation Speaker

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The Class Council’s six-month search for a convocation speaker came to a successful close Monday night when the convocation committee announced that former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno ’60 would address the Class of 2001 in May.

“We wanted someone who knew what [Cornell has] been like in the past and could connect that to where the University would go in the future,” said Nageeb Sumar ’01 convocation chair.

The process began when Sumar e-mailed the senior class for suggestions for motivational and entertaining speakers. Seniors expressed a strong interest in welcoming an alumna to speak at the convocation ceremony, he noted.

“It’s been an honor to find someone to represent the [University’s] ideals and values,” Sumar said. “We really stressed factors such as whether the speaker was an alum, a minority or a woman.”

According to Jennifer Davis, director of Class Council, feedback for a convocation speaker was greater than for any other program or event sponsored by the class councils.

The bulk of the committee’s work includes contacting agents and determining how much money speakers are willing to accept for an appearance, according to Sumar.

“We contacted agents at the beginning of the year to match availability and feasibility,” Sumar said. “A lot of times we’re stuck playing phone tag and waiting for the agents to negotiate back and forth.”

Reno ranked among the top five desired convocation speakers for the Class of 2001, according to Class President Claire Ackerman ’01. The group included political leaders and entertainers, alumni and others.

“I’m personally very excited,” Ackerman said. “I’ve heard wonderful things about her as a speaker.”

Past convocation speakers have included Sen. Charles Schumer; Sandy Berger, national security advisor to former President Bill Clinton; Keith Olbermann ’79, sportscaster; and Bertice Berry, comedian.

“With a Cornell alum, the student body has a shared past and can see where people can go from here,” said Rich Katz ’01. “It’s much more personal and meaningful.”

With President Hunter R. Rawlings III and the Board of Trustees in attendance, the convocation ceremony will also include remarks from the convocation chair, the class president and the alumni president, who will present the class gift, Sumar noted.

Set for May 26 at Barton Hall, Janet Reno will speak at noon. Her day begins, as is tradition, with an intimate breakfast at Banfi’s, followed by a press conference and the convocation ceremony.

In anticipation of limited seating, the Class Council is considering issuing tickets to seniors. The committee is comprised of seniors on the Class Council, Cornell University Programming Board, the Student Assembly Finance Commission and the Student Assembly.

Prior to her appointment as Attorney General in the Clinton administration, Reno spent 15 years serving as the State Attorney for Dade County in Florida. The first female to be appointed to the position, Reno has been the longest serving U.S. attorney general (1993-2001) since before the Civil War.

“She has certainly experienced a great deal of controversy in her position and role and can therefore really talk about what kinds of skills she needed to be successful and how her experiences at Cornell shaped her,” said Davis, who oversaw the search process.

Archived article by Tanvi Chheda