Senior Jennifer Sherman will speak at the Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 11.
Senior Jennifer Sherman will speak at the Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 11.

Senior Jennifer Sherman will speak at Duke's 2014 commencement ceremony.

The first female student to give the commencement address since 2000, Sherman was selected to speak by a campus committee composed of students, faculty and advisors. Thirty undergraduate and graduate students submitted speeches for consideration—a record high number, said committee head Sterly Wilder, Trinity ’83 and associate vice president for alumni affairs.

Over the past few weeks, Sherman has edited her speech with the committe. She will focus on the aspects of the Duke experience that she encourages her class to reflect on rather than overlook, she noted.

“It is a day for celebrating and not dwelling,” she said. “But people hear a lot about accomplishments and don’t really talk a lot about our struggles. I’ve found that the times where I’ve learned the most have been in the toughest moments. This is a chance to say ‘Look, we made it—it was not an effortless ride and it was hard, but we did it and we’re better people for it.’”

The speech will look at the way that these ordinary and extraordinary moments come together to shape students' lives.

“We’re very excited,” Wilder said. “Her speech and her theme were incredibly honest and powerful.”

The selection committee reviews all speeches before choosing a group of finalists to present their speeches to the committee in person, Wilder said. Both the quality of the speech itself and the presentation of the speaker are considered, and the committee looks for someone who can connect with everyone gathered in the audience. Wilder noted that the committee greatly admired both Sherman’s speech and her speaking persona.

“When Jenny spoke, you could just feel the room go silent," Wilder told Duke News. "She spoke from her heart, with incredible power, and made all of us think in a new way what the Duke experience is all about. We had an extraordinary group of speeches to choose from this year, but hers stood out.”

In regards to being the first female speaker in fourteen years, Sherman said she does not know why there have been predominantly more male speakers. She noted the application process can come with some degree of luck.

"It may just be that guys are more willing to give it a try and women are more conscious. But in any case, I hope I help more people become encouraged to go for it in the coming years,” Sherman said.“But it was more of a reason to not let that kind of self doubt prevent me from trying for something when you have nothing to lose.”

A native of Bay Village, OH, Sherman is a cultural anthropology major and theater studies minor. She co-directs the Master Tutoring Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Sherman has also worked with refugee families in Durham, Jordan and Nepal through Bass Connections. She additionally has served as
a research assistant, an academic tutor for Duke Athletics and a community volunteer.

"She's terrific," Wilder said. "It's really exciting."

Commencement will be held Sunday, May 11 at Wallace Wade Stadium at 10 a.m.

This story was updated 12 a.m. Friday, May 8.

Emma Baccellieri contributed reporting.