UC Berkeley's Image May Have Deterred Speakers

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A perception that Berkeley is "anti-American" made it difficult for the commencement selection committee to woo a powerful official to speak during this year's graduation ceremony.

A source close to the commencement decision, who requested anonymity, said Californians, Class of 2002, the organization that represents UC Berkeley seniors, asked big-name politicians such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Mexico's President Vicente Fox to speak.

But they and other top political leaders reportedly declined to give the keynote address because Berkeley is viewed as un-American, the source said.

UC Berkeley had reportedly made the short list of universities at which Cheney was considering speaking. The source said Cheney planned to speak at four universities, and UC Berkeley was among 13 still in the running.

Officials announced last week that for the first time in university history a gold medalist would give the speech. Their pick, Jonny Moseley, is a two-time olympic skier who struck gold in the moguls in 1998.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Attorney General Janet Reno, the past two commencement speakers, were both protested by UC Berkeley students for their political stances. Avoiding controversy this year was one of the goals of the selection committee, said committee chair Laila Jadelrab.

Tuany Vo, president of Californians, Class of 2002, declined to comment on whether or not other picks for the speech were deterred by Berkeley's radical reputation.

Vo said, however, that there are numerous factors behind potential commencement speakers' decisions not to participate in the graduation ceremony.

"Each speaker has their own reasons for not coming to Cal," Vo said. "It's difficult for us to get speakers in part because Berkeley doesn't give honorary degrees and honorariums like other universities."

Vo added that candidates usually do not provide reasons for declining to speak at the commencement ceremony, and the selection committee often has difficulties scheduling a speaker.

"A lot of students feel as if we have 20 candidates out there who are knocking on our door saying please let me speak at your commencement," Vo said. "I don't think students understand just how difficult it is to find a speaker to come (here)."

But one member of the senior organization, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had concerns throughout the selection process that "Berkeley's anti-American stance" would impede the committee's ability to attract a prominent speaker.

Jason Simon, program manager of student group relations for the California Alumni Association and a member of the selection committee, said Moseley was chosen over political figures in order to diversify the backgrounds of commencement speakers.

"The recent trend of politicians is just that, a trend," Simon said. "We've also had actors and CEOs."

Simon added that he and the selection committee consider Moseley a worthy choice to speak at the ceremony.

"He's a two-time Olympian, he's a gold medalist and he's been perfecting his craft since he was four years old," he said. "As our seniors graduate it's going to take lives of commitment (like Moseley's) to graduate."

Some UC Berkeley students are disappointed by the committee's decision.

Graffiti chalked across the front of Dwinelle Hall and Alumni House, where tickets to the convocation were handed out, read "Moseley Who?" and "What? Moseley at Commencement?" And signs posted along Sproul Plaza called for students to "voice (their) opinion" on the decision to campus leaders.

Emily Schum, an anthropology major who will graduate this semester, said she was concerned by the announcement that Moseley, who does not hold a college degree, will speak at the ceremony.

"It seems important to have someone speak who knows what it means to go to Berkeley and what it'll give to future graduates."

However, Schum said Moseley "will capture our attentions more because he's closer to our age."


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