Starting this year, student speakers at Commencement will only give “brief welcome remarks,” not full-length speeches, per a Wednesday email sent to the Duke community.
These changes come nearly a year after The Chronicle reported that the language of the 2022 student Commencement speech, given by Priya Parkash, Trinity ’22, bore striking resemblance to a 2014 Harvard Commencement address.
At the time, the University said they were “aware of and concerned about these allegations and have initiated a process to understand the facts of the situation.”
The redesign of the selection process this year intends to make it “less burdensome for potential speakers,” according to the Wednesday email sent from Mary Pat McMahon, vice president and vice provost of student affairs.
The email did not clarify whether these changes were made in response to last year's student Commencement speech and Margot Cardamone, chief of staff of Student Affairs, did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
There will also be two speakers giving welcome remarks starting this year — one undergraduate student and one graduate student. Students will be able to nominate potential speakers through a form until April 12.
The email did not specify how long “brief welcome remarks” will last, though the nomination form states that “students will be provided guidance on length and content of remarks to be personalized.” Meanwhile, Parkash’s speech was about 10 minutes long last year.
In addition, this year’s finalists will be asked to submit a short speaking sample of up to two minutes. The form did not specify what the speaking sample would consist of.
This differs from last year’s selection process where seniors interested in giving a speech were asked to submit a “brief speech outline of around 250 words.” Then, the selection committee chose “several finalists,” who were then required to “deliver draft speeches to the selection committee.”
At no point in last year’s selection process were members directed to check for resemblances with other speeches or works, a committee member previously told The Chronicle. There was no mention of any changes to the process to check for resemblances this year in the email or form.
The Commencement speaker selection process has been changed twice in two years. Last year’s selection process was also new, with changes intended to “make applying easier” and to “put an emphasis on the student perspective.”
Nomination and selection process
Students must be in good academic standing, in good standing with the Office of Conduct and Community Standards, and must be graduating in May of 2023, according to the nomination form.
The nomination window will be open from April 5 to 12. Those nominating students are asked for the nominee’s academic achievements, extracurricular activities, leadership roles or community service. They must also answer how the nominee has positively impacted the community in their time at Duke, as well as the nominee’s public speaking experience or abilities.
The committee will review nominations between April 12 to 16 and identify five undergraduate and five graduate finalists.
On April 17, finalists will be informed, asked if they accept their nomination and asked to submit a short speaking sample of up to two minutes due April 21.
The selection committee will make recommendations to President Vincent Price, as it did last year as well. The final selection by Price for the Class of 2023 speakers will be made by April 25.
This year’s selection committee will consist of John Blackshear, the dean of students; Candis Watts, the vice provost of undergraduate education; Suzanne Barbour, the vice provost for graduate education; a representative from Duke Student Government; and a representative from Graduate and Professional Student Government.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
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Milla Surjadi is a Trinity junior and a diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator of The Chronicle's 119th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 118.
Katie Tan is a Trinity junior and digital strategy director of The Chronicle's 119th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 118.