April 19, 2001

Grads Awaiting Convocation

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As Slope Day rapidly approaches, signaling the end of classes and the arrival of summer, many seniors are preparing to leave Cornell and enter the real world. Prior to their departure from Ithaca, seniors will have the opportunity to hear from Janet Reno ’60, former U.S. attorney general, who will speak at the Class of 2001 convocation, a decision which has elicited a wide variety of opinions from both students and faculty.

“She has been controversial. She’s a partisan figure and there’s a question about whether that’s the best way to handle a graduation in which you want to appeal to both Republicans and Democrats,” said Prof. Martin A. Shefter, government.

The convocation committee did not view Reno’s past decisions as a determining factor in her selection.

The longest serving U.S. attorney general in the 20th Century, Reno led the Justice Department during the government’s raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas and the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. During her tenure, national crime rates also declined and the U.S. convicted Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

“She won’t be talking about anything political. She’ll be speaking more as an individual and her experience as an attorney general,” said Nageeb Sumar ’01, convocation committee chair.

Being inspirational is one of the main criterion that the convocation committee searches for in a speaker, according to Senior Class President Claire Ackerman ’01.

“She’ll bring a great deal of insight and inspiration to graduation. Whether or not anyone agrees with the decisions she has made, she has become very successful,” Ackerman noted.

Nonetheless, there is some disagreement regarding Reno’s selection, specifically from the Cornell College Republicans.

“Her term as attorney general was not characterized by integrity, honor and courage,” said Ryan Horn ’02, chair of the Cornell College Republicans.

“Someone who speaks to a graduating class should have those qualities,” he said.

Reno has requested that no political questions be asked of her during a press conference she will be giving while she is in Ithaca on commencement weekend, according to Sumar. While Reno’s speech theme has not been announced, she will probably talk about her past experience and similar themes that prior speakers have touched upon, he said.

“She’s the obvious choice as an alumna and someone who has recently left office,” said Jonathan Lewinsohn ’02.

Reno’s selection was organized by the convocation committee, comprised of seniors on class council, the Cornell University Programming Board, the Student Assembly and the Student Assembly Finance Committee.

Early last fall, the group sent out an e-mail to all seniors requesting their input in the selection process and received over 330 replies.

“Finding someone who was an alumna was a main criteria this year,” Sumar said.

Additional student nominees for potential graduation speakers included former President Bill Clinton, Christopher Reeve ’74, Toni Morrison and Kurt Vonnegut. The final decision was made based on speaker availability and cost.

Archived article by Rachel Pessah