Recent alumni petition for worthy Commencement speakers

This letter was sent to President Nathan O. Hatch on May 23, 2012. 

Dear President Hatch,

As young alumni, we take great interest in following the progress of our alma mater, an institution of which we are extremely proud. The education we have received at Wake Forest has given us a broad base of knowledge, skills, insight, and values. In our lives and careers, the motto of Pro Humanitate enjoins us to direct our education for the betterment of others, of humanity writ large.

Thus, it is with great concern that we read Charlie Ergen’s remarks at the 2012 Commencement. Mr. Ergen, the chairman of DISH Network Corporation and EchoStar Communications Corporation, is now the third consecutive CEO to speak at Wake Forest’s Commencement. Rather than focus on the speech, which was riddled with clichés and reductive statements, as well as addressed primarily to his graduating daughter, rather than the class of a thousand newly-minted alumni, we’d like to ask what our choice of commencement speaker reflects about Wake Forest as an institution.

We are a university that treasures the liberal arts. Every Wake Forest graduate completes a series of divisional requirements in the arts, humanities, sciences, and languages. This fundamental education produces young adults capable of discoursing intelligently on a variety of topics, speaking languages well enough to comprehend their literatures, interacting with people from disciplines vastly different from their own, and sustaining intellectual curiosity long after their undergraduate years are done. Mr. Ergen quips that most graduates “will never read another book after today.” These are not words to live by, and certainly not words to graduate by.

In its ideal form, a liberal arts education nurtures students who will one day become writers, policy-makers, doctors, musicians, artists, leaders, and thinkers. It encourages us to be Renaissance men and women, to change the world through our thoughts and actions. One of the avenues to pursue this change is through business, but this is surely not the only path available to liberal arts graduates, and surely not the only measure of success.

We ask that Wake Forest invite Commencement speakers who promote such values. Where are the journalists and educators, the politicians and diplomats, scientists and actors? In the past, Wake Forest has invited speakers such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and novelist Tom Clancy, the cartoonist Garry Trudeau and New York Times columnist David Brooks. We should aspire for such diversity in our Commencement speakers, for diversity of opinion and background is the very core of a stimulating college experience.

It is true that Wake Forest has a successful Business School – this does not mean that all of our commencement speakers should be tailored to that audience. Three CEOs in succession simply excludes a large proportion of the student body, and sends a clarion message that the other disciplines represented on the Wake Forest campus are not entitled to a voice at graduation, the most important symbolic day on the academic calendar.

President Hatch, we ask you to consider creating a committee to elect and invite a Commencement speaker – a committee that includes students, faculty, and administration from different fields. We ask that Wake Forest strive for speakers who speak, not just to a small portion of the campus, but to all the students and family who have gathered on the Quad for this meaningful day. We ask for diversity of opinion to be cherished at our alma mater, and for this diversity to be reflected in our commencement speakers.


Yours truly,

Lakshmi Krishnan (’06 Carswell Scholar, English and German)

Blake Brandes (’06 Graylyn Scholar, English and French)

Jennifer Harris (’04 Graylyn Scholar, Economics and Political Science)

Stowe Nelson (’08, Carswell Scholar, English)

Kezia McKeague (’05, Reynolds Scholar, Political Science and Spanish)

Valerie Brender (’06, Economics)

Jennifer Barker Lyday (’06, Carswell Scholar, Political Science and Spanish)

Joe Martinez (’06, Communication)

Amy Currie (’05, Psychology)

William Rothwell (’08, Reynolds Scholar, Biology)


Lakshmi Krishnan is a medical student at Johns Hopkins, PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, and Rhodes Scholar. She lives in Baltimore, Md.

Blake Brandes is a hip-hop educator, non-profit consultant, music producer, PhD recipient from the University of Kent, and Marshall Scholar. He lives in New York, N.Y.

Jennifer Harris holds an MPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford, a JD from Yale Law School, and is a Truman and Rhodes Scholar. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Stowe Nelson is a sound designer for theatre and dance. He lives in New York, N.Y.

Kezia McKeague is the Director of Government Relations at the Council of the Americas. She holds a Master in International Affairs from Torcuato Di Tella University in Buenos Aires and Sciences Po-Paris. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Valerie Brender is a 2012 graduate from NYU School of Law, former Peace Corps Volunteer, and Fulbright Scholar. She will be a fellow in the West Africa division of Human Rights Watch starting in September 2012. She lives in New York, N.Y.

Jennifer Barker Lyday is an Associate at the Bankruptcy Practice Group, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP, Winston-Salem, N.C., and holds a JD from William & Mary Law School. She lives in Mocksville, N.C.

Joe Martinez is a professional photographer. He lives in New York, N.Y.

Amy Currie is a graduate student at the Catholic University of America’s School of Library and Information Science (CUA-SLIS) and currently works as Associate Director of Membership at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). She lives in Washington, D.C.

William Rothwell is an MD/PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania and Fulbright Scholar. He lives in Philadelphia, Pa. 

  • Jennifer Thompson Grabenstetter

    I would like to add my name and my support to this letter.

    Jenn Thompson Grabenstetter – Class of 2005
    Political Science
    Journalist & Communications Professional
    Washington, DC

  • Christin Essin

    I agree wholeheartedly, and add my name to support to the above letter.

    Christin Essin, Class of 1993
    Assistant Professor of Theatre, Vanderbilt University

  • Shannon

    I add my name in support.

    Shannon Philmon Ritchie c/o 2007
    Student Body President 2006-2007

  • Michael Sinclair

    I could not agree more. I was a student at Wake Forest College — I emphasize “College.” My grandfather, father, daughter, and son-in-law attended Wake Forest. My wife attended Bowman Gray School of Medicine. I taught at Wake Forest for 38 years. My grandson is brighter than all of us, and he (with my encouragement) did not apply to WFU — he’s finishing his junior year at Carleton College. I am appalled by the emphasis on the business school and the choice of speakers.

  • Rachel Morgan Little

    I, too, add my name in support of this letter. As an English major, I am proud to say that I do, in fact, still read books.

    Rachel Morgan Little, c/o 2007
    BA, English
    MD/MPH candidate, c/o 2013, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Brian French

    Sadly, many blogging platforms don’t include spell- and context-checkers. The bio notes just above the footer are incorrect. The abbreviations of Maryland and Pennsylvania are MD and PA, respectively; they do not include periods.

  • Kathy Harbin

    They are using AP (Associated Press) Style where “Md.” and “Penn.” are actually correct. It is the style used in the majority of major newspapers.

  • Brian French

    I see they’ve been changed since my post. Previously they were listed as M.D. and P.A.

    Nevertheless, thank you, editor. Carry on.

  • Will

    Completely agreed.

    Will Geiger ’10

  • Allen Stanton

    Shortly after Dr. Hatch announced the commencement speaker, I wrote an email to him respectfully sharing my disappointment in Ergen’s selection. This is part of his response to me:

    “I do take issue with your statement that our commencement speaker will not ‘challenge [your] thoughts and goals.’ I think we would miss out on many interesting perspectives and challenging ideas if we only listened to those who hailed from within our own particular discipline or tradition of thought. As indicated in your message, you have taken wonderful advantage of a broad array of speakers, representing many diverse professional fields, lines of thought, and life experiences, during your time at Wake Forest. I would venture to say that you have probably had your mind stretched and your ideas challenged in wonderful and surprising ways by these speakers. I would hope that the broadly educated person, such as I believe our Wake Forest graduates to be, would not quickly dismiss an individual as having nothing worthwhile to say only because that person’s background or experience is different from one’s own.”

    While I was disappointed that Charlie Ergen would be our speaker, and though I never “dismissed [Ergen] as having nothing worthwhile to say” because of his background, I approached the speech with an open mind. Sadly, I will still maintain my original criticism.

  • Eric McNaughton, ’94

    I would like to add my name in support of this letter, with thanks to its writers.

    Eric McNaughton
    B. A., Theatre Arts, 1994

  • Lauren Galloway Gibson

    I would also like to add my name in support of this letter.
    Lauren Galloway Gibson
    BA, Communication, 2009
    MPA candidate, 2013, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

  • Meskerem Glegziabher

    I would also like to add my name in support of this letter.
    Meskerem Glegziabher, Gordon Scholar c/o 2007
    B.A. English;
    M.A. Socio-cultural Anthropology, 2011, Michigan State University;
    PhD Student, Anthropology and International Development, Michigan State University.

  • Charles Elam Gibson, III

    I would also like to add my name in support of this letter.

    Charles Elam Gibson, III
    Former Chairman of the Wake Forest University Honor and Ethics Council

    B.A., Music (English Minor) Wake Forest University, Class of 2009

    M.A., Higher Education, Appalachian State University Class of 2010

    Ed.S., Higher Education, Appalachian State University, Class of 2011

    Ph.D. Student and Bunton-Waller Fellow, The Pennsylvania State University

  • Ernest Lewis, Jr.

    I firmly support this letter.
    Ernest Lewis, Jr.
    BA Music-Performance, Religion, 2009, Wake Forest University
    MA in Management, 2011, Wake Forest University
    JD Candidate, 2015, Elon School of Law

  • Aaron Miles

    I fervently support the tenets of this letter.

  • Teresa J. Glascoe

    I too stand in solidarity with my peers and would like to offer my support of this letter.
    Teresa J. Glascoe
    B.A. Political Science, 2012
    J.D. Candidate,2015, Elon University School of Law

  • Virginia Browne

    I whole-heartedy support this!

    Virginia Browne
    B.A., French, 2012
    M.M. Appalachian State University ’12

  • Malini Runnells

    I would like to add my name in support of this letter.
    Malini J. Runnells
    BA in Communication, Wake Forest University 2012
    MA Candidate in Health Communication, Emerson College 2014

  • Janelle S. Peifer

    I would also like to add my name in support of this letter.

    With Love for the Wake Forest that made me the person, scholar, and thinker I am today,

    Janelle S. Peifer
    B.A. in Psychology ’10
    M.Ed. in Clinical Psychology ’11 (University of Virginia)
    Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology expected ’15 (University of Virginia)

  • Elizabeth Barron

    I would also like to add my name in support of this letter.
    Elizabeth Irene Barron
    B.A. in Philosophy and French 1993
    Ph.D. in French 2001 (UNC-Chapel Hill)

  • Lauren M. Smith

    Sign me up!

  • Brandon E. Turner

    Couldn’t agree more. Well done.

  • JT Peifer

    Add my name!

    JT Peifer
    B.A. English Literature 2011

  • Teri L. Capshaw

    As an alumna of Wake’s graduate business school and parent of a 2012 graduate, I was incredibly disappointed in Ergen’s selection as speaker and his poor excuse of a speech. Please add my name in support of this petition.

  • Krystle Kline

    Add me too!

    Krystle Kline
    BA Biology, 2009
    MA History, College of Charleston, 2011

  • Jean Chen

    Hopefully this will make a solid change. Please add my name:

    Hsien-Ching (Jean August) Chen

    BA Russian, 2012

    MA candidate in Russian and Eurasian Studies, European University at Saint-Petersburg, Russia, 2014

  • Alyssa Biber

    Adding my name in support of the above letter.

    Alyssa Biber
    BA, English and Theatre, 2006

  • Saket Munshaw

    Add my name in support –

    Saket Munshaw
    Student Govt. Treasurer 2008 – 2010

  • Natasha Gaggar

    Although I actually graduated from the grad Business school at this year’s commencement, I was left very unsatisfied with what I’d hoped would be a memorable (in a good way) commencement to cap off my almost decade of attendance through undergrad/grad school at Wake. I have always been proud of the broad liberal arts education we received in undergrad, and feel that this was definitely not adequately represented.

    Please add my name in support:
    Natasha Gaggar
    WFU Class of 2006/2012
    BA, Communication, International Studies 2006
    JD/MBA, 2012

  • Ashley Lubenkov

    Well said.

    Ashley Lubenkov
    B.A. Political Science and French, 2007

  • Ashley Phillips Tirey

    Please consider this letter to reflect my opinion, as well.
    Kind regards,
    Ashley Phillips Tirey c/o 2005
    B.A. Elementary Education, Wake Forest University
    M.A. Professional Writing, Kennesaw State University

  • Alumn

    Nathan O. Hatch




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