Eva Blue / Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Gay speaks in a Montreal, Canada, interview in 2015. The acclaimed author and professor will be the Class of 2021 convocation speaker.

May 13, 2021

Author Roxane Gay to Be 2021 Convocation Speaker

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After months of deliberations, the convocation committee announced Thursday that author Roxane Gay will be the convocation speaker for the Class of 2021. 

Gay is best know for her writing, including her bestelling books Bad Feminist, a collection of essays covering politics and feminism, and Hunger, a memoir about “intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies.” She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where she writes about the intersections of identity and culture. Gay was the first Black woman lead writer for a Marvel comic series. She has also taught as a visiting professor at Yale University and an associate professor of English at Purdue University. 

The convocation committee chose Gay to tell the story of the graduating class — one that has experienced overwhelming change, uncertainy and unrest during their time as college students — wrote Hassaan Bin Sabir ’21, the chair of the convocation committee. 

“The incredible individuals who make up the Senior Convocation Committee were guided by the values which we feel define our class — resilience, empathy, creativity, among others,” Sabir said. “Both in her writing and as an individual, Roxane Gay embodies these qualities. We can think of no one more suited than her to speak the experiences of the Class of 2021.” 

With her writing focusing on her own identities and “contradictions” — her Blackness, her background as the daughter of middle-class Haitian immigrants, her bisexuality — alongside  topics like body image and sexual assault, the committee also hopes for Gay to bring that same vulnerability to her convocation speech.

But this isn’t the first time Gay has had a seat at the Cornell conovcation committee table. The author expressed interest in being Cornell’s convocation speaker in 2019, after The Sun reported that actor Hasan Minhaj canceled his appearance. The University ultimately chose television personality and science communicator Bill Nye ’77 to give the remarks at graduation. 

In 2020, Cornell canceled convocation — and all of commencement weekend — but in 2018 the event was headlined by film director Ava DuVernay, and by President Joe Biden the year before. 

Gay told The Sun in 2019 that if given the opportunity to speak that year she would discuss “how if we don’t start giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and really listening to each other, we are truly doomed to repeat the mistakes of history. But funny.”

The senior convocation will take place virtually on May 28, at 8:30 p.m., with details on how to view the event forthcoming.  

Madeline Rosenberg ’23 contributed reporting.