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2011 Commencement speaker selected

By Jocelyn Wright     8/26/10 7:00pm

The New York Times columnist David Brooks will be the speaker at the 98th Commencement on May 14, 2011. A committee consisting of six students, representatives from President David Leebron's office, Hanszen College Master Rob Griffin and Associate Dean of Undergraduates Matt Taylor selected Brooks to speak at commencement. "One thing I like about David Brooks is he's a real independent thinker," Leebron said. "He's generally identified as a Republican commentator, but he is independent. When you get up in the morning and go to a David Brooks column, you can't say 'I know how it's coming out [in the end].' There are a lot of other commentators that, once you know the issue, you know exactly what they're going to say."

Griffin said he was pleased with the committee's selection.

"We're excited about his mix of interest in politics and human behavior and social issues," Griffin said. "That mix delivered with a little bit of his humor I think is going to be very interesting."

The search for this year's commencement speaker began in December 2009. The committee met, came up with a list of prospective candidates and proceeded to whittle down the list over winter break. They gave the final list to the President's Office, which was responsible for courting Brooks and working out logistics. Although there were faculty and staff members on the committee, the final decision was left up to the three returning students who are seniors this year, committee member Pierre Elias said.

"Everyone had a fair share and an open voice," Elias, a Brown College senior, said. "They really did leave the final decision up to us and were very receptive to our personal opinions. It was very much a collaborative process."

Griffin said the committee's primary goal was to find a very dynamic speaker.

"We wanted the person to be able to deliever a message in a manner that was entertaining such that students would pay attention while they're sitting melting in their caps and gowns," Griffin said. "We wanted someone who would be dynamic and hold the audience captive, and we wanted someone who could provide a unique perspective on whatever field it was they were in."

While looking for prospective speakers, Elias said the committee wanted more than just a recognizable name.

"For us, the meaningful part was not to have a big, shiny name, but someone we felt confident could inspire Rice students and really make them happy that guy was their commencement speaker," Elias said.

After seeing Brooks speak, Leebron said he was very impressed and immediately extended an invitation to speak at commencement.

"I listened to him speak about his view about the future and the way we need to be thinking about our obligations and how we behave and the problems we face," Leebron said. "I left thinking the students have probably made a better choice than even they understand.

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