February 25, 2016

Cornell Students React to James Franco Pick for Convocation

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Cornell students responded with both enthusiasm and reservation to the Convocation Committee’s announcement last Friday that actor and director James Franco will address the class of 2016 this May.

Franco’s illustrious and varied career in Hollywood — complemented by his noteworthy achievements in academia — has won him approval from some members of the senior class.

John Salvagno ’16 said Franco “brings a lot to the table with respect to his creativity and life experiences.”

“Being from a distinguished academic background will definitely add more depth to his speech,” Salvagno said. “There is a story to tell for everyone’s journey through life and [Franco’s] academic background combin[ed] with his experience in the entertainment industry fits the bill for a graduation speech.”

While some praised Franco’s varied talents, other students expressed skepticism about Franco’s suitability as a convocation speaker. Specifically, several students wondered if Franco — given his highly privileged upbringing — could adequately send the class of 2016 off to a world of which he knows little.

Miranda Kasher ’19 was not convinced that Franco would “give the kind of advice [graduating seniors] need for their future.”

“[Franco] had such a different experience in his life, one that might not really relate to a [Cornell] student’s,” she said.

Still other students voiced concerns about the sincerity of Franco’s accomplishments.

Elise Smith ’19, who shares Franco’s hometown of Palo Alto, C.A., noted the unglamorous view her community has of the celebrity.

Smith said that Palo Alto residents view Franco’s scholarship and artistic pursuits as artificial, with the community’s consensus purportedly being that Franco “is not really that good at any of the [things he tries to do].”

Nonetheless, Smith said that she would be happy if Franco were her own convocation speaker.

In recent years, several of Cornell’s convocation speakers have hailed from politics.

Last year, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords M.R.P. ’96 delivered the convocation address to the Class of 2015, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), then-Mayor of Newark, spoke to the Class of 2013.

Dan Stoyell ’18, while recognizing that politicians often have “very interesting lived experiences” said that as long as convocation speakers give “engaging” speeches, whether with comedy or “meaningful conversation,” they will be successful.

Likewise, Salvagno, who witnessed Sen. Booker’s 2013 speech, said that Sen. Booker “hardly talked politics” and instead discussed “his upbringing and the life experiences he found most memorable.”

A good convocation speaker should have “a story to tell,” and Franco’s “creativity and life experiences” satisfy this criterion, Salvagno said.