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Commencement speaker chosen

By Hallie Jordan     10/19/11 7:00pm

Educational entrepreneur Salman Khan will speak this year for Rice's 99th commencement.

A committee of six students, representatives from President David Leebron's office, Hanszen College master Rob Griffin and Associate Dean of Undergraduates Matt Taylor worked to select Khan as this year's speaker through a series of meetings held both last semester and earlier this semester.

"The committee couldn't be more pleased to have him," Committee Chair Griffin said. "The way he uses technology for education is fascinating and meets all of our committee criteria."

Khan has developed a free educational website called Khan Academy. After tutoring family members and friends in math, Khan decided to start making videos from his home to help students master math concepts. His topics range from simple addition to vector calculus.

"He uses his web-based technology to make educational concepts more accessible," Griffin said. "His drive to improve education in this country and globally is really remarkable. His commitment to those subjects is really what made him rise to the top of the list."

Khan Academy is starting to be used in some schools where teachers use his videos as a way of teaching students and allowing them to work out problems his academy offers during classes. The academy has over 2,600 videos with topics including math, physics, finance and history. It is a free service that anyone can sign up for by visiting the academy's website at For instance, the videos show equations being written down with a voice-over from Khan explaining the concept. His videos have over 50 million total views.

This year, the committee was looking for someone who would be a dynamic speaker, a good role model in terms of how to do something helpful to the world and someone who is on the rise in his or her career, Griffin said.

To choose the speaker, each person on the committee made a list of people they would like to see come to Rice and then worked together to vote and narrow down the list to about 10 people whom they thought would meet their criteria, from which they ultimately chose Khan. They watched Youtube videos and TEDx videos to get a sense of the candidates public speaking skills.

"We really tried to get a diverse group of people and find a large pool of folks to choose from," Griffin said.

"To be honest, I had never heard of Khan before, but the TED talk we watched just blew me away," Committee Member Kaleb Underwood said. "Our committee really got behind education, and I think he will be someone a lot of people can relate to."

Khan was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and received three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These include a bachelor's in mathematics, a bachelor's in electrical engineering and computer science, and an master's in electrical engineering and computer science. He also earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

"People really take stock in who the speaker is, and we hope they will take time to read about Khan and get excited about what he has to say," Underwood, a Jones College senior, said.

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