Girls Who Code CEO to be Scripps Commencement Speaker

Reshma Saujani speaks at at a TED2016 in Vancouver last February. (Courtesy of Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Reshma Saujani will deliver the commencement address for Scripps College's graduating class of 2017, Scripps announced this week. Saujani is the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology jobs. The decision marked the end of a search that began in the fall of 2015.

The commencement speaker decision was made by a committee of Scripps students who had expressed interest in the selection process. Senior class representative Meghan McIntyre SC ’17 wrote in an email to TSL that Saujani represents the collective values expressed by the class of 2017.

“Historically, Scripps has not had many women of color give the commencement address, and our class voiced their desire to hear from someone coming from a marginalized background," McIntyre wrote. "When reviewing suggestions and formulating a list, we strove to find a person that is a compassionate activist who challenges the world they live in.”

Past speakers of color have included Sarah Kay, the commencement speaker in 2015, and Zainab Salbi in 2012. Over the past 50 years, only six commencement speakers have been women of color. 

McIntyre emphasized how Reshma Saujani embodies Scripps’s values through her lifelong commitment to activism.

“Reshma has a tremendous track record with promoting gender equity," she wrote. "She has been a community activist throughout her life. For example, as an attorney she handled pro-bono social justice cases in order to service under-represented communities. The first Indian American woman to run for Congress, Reshma has repeatedly demonstrated her courage to take risks and challenge the world that she lives in.”

Computer science major Alley Bellack SC ’17 expressed enthusiasm with the committee’s choice.

"As a (computer science) student and aspiring entrepreneur, I'm deeply inspired by her work and career both in tech and politics," Bellack wrote in an email to TSL. "Not to mention, Girls Who Code is a fabulous organization with a great mission—I considered working there, and I'm trying to get my little sister to join!”

Students were actively involved in the selection process of the commencement speaker. Scripps Associated Students President Sneha Deo SC ’17 said the decision is the end result of a year-long process.

“The junior class president convenes a committee of students for their class year in the spring before senior year; this group of students identifies candidates for the commencement speaker," Deo wrote in an email to TSL. "The class president then communicates with potential candidates and secures a confirmation in collaboration with senior staff at Scripps.”

The committee mentioned by Deo was comprised of students who had expressed interest in getting involved with the selection process, such as McIntyre and Isabella Levin SC ’17. In the fall of 2015, a survey was sent out to students asking for opinions regarding their choice of speaker.

McIntyre described how the committee actively sought student involvement in the selection process.

“The committee sifted through nearly 100 surveys we received in the fall and the beginning of spring semester," McIntyre wrote. "Looking at responses, the committee formed a list of speakers that students had suggested.

"The next step was sending out the second survey to collect student opinion and votes of top choice speakers, as well as ask for qualities people wanted in a speaker, and what attributes were most important to them. We received responses from over half of the class. The committee then met to debrief these results and make the decision.” 

McIntyre wrote that the surveys allowed Levin and her to gain a better understanding of the collective values of the class of 2017, as they had to select the speaker that best reflected those values. 

“As facilitators of the process, it was important to me to find a speaker that embodied the qualities that were important to our class," McIntyre wrote. "In surveys, discussions with our class, (and) just looking at all the social justice work members of our class have organized, it was clear that inviting an intersectional feminist was a top priority.”