Harvey Mudd, Pomona and Scripps announce commencement speakers

Harvey Mudd College, Pomona College and Scripps College have announced the keynote speakers for their May 2019 commencement ceremonies. Pitzer College spokesperson Anna Chang said the college will announce its speaker Tuesday. Claire Wengrod PZ ’19, a member of Pitzer’s Student Senate, said “she is an exciting public figure [who] reflects our core values well.”

Claremont McKenna College will likely announce its speaker in March, spokesperson Peter Hong said.

Harvey Mudd College

Stanford professor and entrepreneur Sebastian Thrun will be the Harvey Mudd College commencement speaker at the 2019 graduation ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun, a renowned entrepreneur and expert in robotics and artificial intelligence, is Mudd’s keynote commencement speaker.

Thrun helped run X, Google’s experimental team, from 2010 to 2012, according to a CNBC profile. X spurred innovations such as the self-driving car project Waymo, Google Glass and Project Loon, which aims to bring internet access to remote areas via hot air balloon.

After leaving Google, Thrun founded Udacity, a company that teaches online classes with the goal of democratizing education, according to Udacity’s website. He is also currently CEO of Kitty Hawk, a venture that aims to solve traffic by creating personal methods of air travel.

Senior class presidents Casey Gardner HM ’19 and Maggie Gelber HM ’19 said the class was was surveyed twice about the speaker selection: once to determine its preferences about the speaker’s occupation and topics they would like to see addressed, and again to rank candidates once a shortlist was developed.

Thrun’s selection reflected students’ desires to hear a speaker discuss finding meaning in one’s occupation, overcoming personal obstacles and ideals related to HMC’s mission statement, according to the announcement.

“He’s done a lot of applied research in areas like autonomous driving and using [artificial intelligence] for disease detection,” Olivia Watkins HM ’19 said. “I’d be excited to hear about his research or his vision for how [artificial intelligence], and tech in general, will shape the world.”

Pomona College

Esther Brimmer PO ’83, a foreign policy expert, will speak at the May 2019 Pomona College commencement. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Foreign policy expert Esther Brimmer PO ’83 will deliver Pomona’s commencement address.

A seasoned diplomat, Brimmer has served in various capacities at the U.S. Department of State. In 2009, she was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizational Affairs by former President Barack Obama. She served in that post until 2013, according to the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area.

Brimmer, also a distinguished academic, taught for two years at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. She served as deputy director for the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University from 2001 to 2009.

In January 2017, Brimmer became the executive director and CEO of the NAFSA: Association of International Educators, according to the organization’s announcement. NAFSA describes itself as “the leading organization committed to international education and exchange.”

Brimmer is an outstanding example of how Pomona’s education is strongly rooted in Southern California yet global in its orientation,” Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr wrote in an email to TSL. “From her work at the Department of State to her research at Johns Hopkins University, she will encourage the class of 2019 to recognize the impact of international matters in an increasingly global and interconnected world.”

Brimmer returned to campus for last year’s alumni weekend to give a talk about her experiences as an international relations major. While on campus, she was presented with the Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award.

“It will be exciting for international relations majors to have one of our more prestigious alumni giving the commencement this May,” said Daniel Silverman PO ’19, an IR major. He thinks students can learn from “how [Brimmer] combined her academic path and her professional public service.”

Brimmer was chosen from a list of 15 nominees by the Honorary Degrees Committee, which is composed of administrators, trustees, faculty and students, senior class president Laura Zhang PO ’19 said.

Scripps College

Poppy MacDonald SC ’97 is slated to give a commencement speech at the Scripps College graduation ceremony this May. (Photo courtesy of Scripps College)

USAFacts President Poppy MacDonald SC ’97 will give Scripps’ commencement speech.

MacDonald attended Scripps as a first-generation college student and majored in history. Shortly after graduating, she began her professional career working for members of Congress.

In 2011, she started working at The National Journal as the vice president of membership.  MacDonald worked her way up to publisher and president by 2014.

In 2016, she left The National Journal to become the president of Politico USA before moving to her current job in 2018 as the president of USAFacts, a nonprofit, non-partisan civic initiative aimed at making data accessible and understandable to American citizens.

MacDonald told TSL about some of the difficulties she faced and the coping strategies she developed early in her career.

“I was dismissed based on a youthful appearance. I learned to deal with this by having to start meetings by sharing my experience and qualifications, whereas my male peers were viewed as instantly credible,” she said. “I also used it to my advantage, catching people off guard in a negotiation where they hadn’t prepared adequately under the false assumption that I was inexperienced.”

MacDonald was selected to speak by a committee comprised of student volunteers from the class of 2019 and chaired by former junior class co-presidents Jahnavi Kothari SC ’19 and Casey Harris SC ’19.

The official invitation sent to MacDonald from the class of 2019 said she stood out as a candidate because of her embodiment of Scripps’ core values and her dedication to making a difference in the world by using her “diverse array of experiences and interests.”

“[Her career] ties in different aspects of a liberal arts curriculum,” Kothari said. “Whether it’s politics, history, economics or journalism, it’s really interdisciplinary and intersectional.” Kothari said MacDonald was a popular choice among the committee because she had visited campus several times over the past few years to engage with Scripps students during events hosted by Career Planning & Resources, Laspa Center for Leadership and the Intercollegiate Feminist Center of the Claremont Colleges.

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