Samantha Power to Deliver Commencement Address

Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power will deliver the commencement address on May 17 and receive an honorary degree. The University announced its decision to welcome Power on Monday, Feb. 24.

Power served as the 28th U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations as a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet from 2013 to 2017. During this time, Power spearheaded U.S. action against the Ebola crisis and negotiated several sanctions against North Korea, among other accomplishments. Previously, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Power is currently the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at the School of Government at Harvard University and a Professor of Practice in Human Rights at Harvard Law School.

Power is but one individual selected to receive an honorary degree from Colgate University for their successful contribution to their professions, community and the world. Among those honored include Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame Robert Audi ’63, Former President of the Republic of Malawi Joyce Banda, Vice President of Research and Education at the Rockefeller Archive Center James Allen Smith ’70 and Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University Temple Grandin.

University President Brian Casey said he felt it was important that a woman deliver the commencement address in 2020, where the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year marks 50 years since Colgate became a coeducational institution.

“We really thought as we kick off a year of celebrating women at Colgate, I thought it was deeply important to have a woman be the speaker to start the year. Whether people will notice that or not, but I thought that seemed right,” Casey said.

According to Casey, the University sends out a call to the rising senior class, faculty, staff and alumni in the fall to submit nominations for a commencement speaker and other honorary degree recipients.

Chief of Staff to President Casey and Secretary to the Board of Trustees Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar identifies and researches potential candidates before passing them along to a committee spearheading the nominations for honorary degrees. The committee is headed by President Casey, and also includes the Chair and the Vice Chair to the Board of Trustees, four elected faculty members and the senior Class Council President. The committee considered Power an exceptionally strong contender, both for her work as a U.S. ambassador and as a champion of human rights. However, attempts to secure Power’s presence at Commencement initially failed, as Power juggled her book tour with a faculty position at Harvard University and a high demand to speak for other institutions.

“Things happen, and someone [might say] no or someone has another commitment, so we keep them on the list for next year. Power had actually been on the list for a while, so it’s not like she came out of the blue,” Rodriguez-Farrar said.

The committee recycled her name, along with hundreds of other possible recipients who were unable to attend Commencement for various reasons. Rodriguez-Farrar ultimately confirmed her appearance after several exchanges last year.

“As graduating seniors, I hope that they will walk away from her speech wanting to do the same, and to not be complacent in what they read but to learn about what is actually happening. I hope graduates can learn what is the truth while recognizing that each and every single one of them can make a difference in unearthing the truths of peoples suffering,” Rodriguez-Farrar said.

Senior Class Council President Hunter Maclean sits on the committee and said she brings a student perspective to the group.

“The [committee] plans many months in advance to ensure Colgate gets a great commencement speaker,” Maclean said, “I think she’ll bring a wonderful perspective to everyone in our class. She’s a renowned human rights activist with a million great stories.”

Senior Vanessa Lizana said she has mixed feelings regarding Power as her class’s commencement speaker.

“I think that Power is a really impressive woman and I’m sure she will give a great commencement speech, but when I first heard who it was, I didn’t know anything about her and felt disappointed. After learning more about her work, I think she seems interesting, but I would have preferred someone that wasn’t necessarily involved with politics,” Lizana said.

Casey said he plans to use funds from his office to give each member of the class of 2020 a copy of Power’s memoir, The Education of an Idealist, at commencement May 17. More information and details on commencement weekend can be found on the commencement page of the Colgate website.