This year’s graduation commencement speaker will be musician Rhiannon Giddens. According to her website “Rhiannon Giddens,” Giddens is co-founder of her Grammy-Award winning string band, “Carolina Chocolate Drops.” She first gained recognition performing at the New York City Town Hall Concert in 2013. From there, she appeared on multiple late-night shows, performed for the Obamas, and was the recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award back in 2017. The genius award caught the attention of the school’s Campus Planning and Priorities Committee (CPPC), which is responsible for choosing a commencement speaker.
The CPPC goes through the process of recommending speakers for both the Commencement and Baccalaureate based on honorary “and considerable achievements,” Dean Mark Schneider said. This process is done a year in advance, beginning in June. “After making a list of suggested individuals, [the committee sends it to] the Dean of the College office. The office then reaches out to the top individuals to see if they are available and willing.” Chosen speakers also receive honorary degrees from the college, according to Schneider.
Dr. Meredith Goldsmith, assistant Dean, Professor of English shared some additional information on the two-day graduation ceremony. In explaining the difference between the Baccalaureate and Commencement, she said, “The Baccalaureate is traditionally religious, a service, a more spiritually flavored ceremony. It’s more collective and intimate, especially since it’s held in Bomberger Chapel.” The Commencement ceremony revolves around the graduating class receiving their degree(s). According to Gold- smith, Rhiannon Giddens, an African-American woman, will be the first person of color to be an Ursinus Commencement speaker since 2014, when Zainab Hawa Bangura spoke.
Class of ’19 student and Mu- sic major Sam Pope also shared his thoughts on having Giddens attend the ceremony and make her Commencement speech. He admitted to not knowing much about the musician but believed having a famous platform should not be of high importance. “As long as what they say has a chance of making us better than we were yesterday, I’ll be listening,” he said.
Goldsmith is definitely ex- cited for Giddens’ speech. “[We] should highlight more diversity,” she said. “We’re in the process of making it more impactive… have a richer, more significant meaning. Different voices should be heard. Diversity should be more forefront and in the center.”
The graduation ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 18.