Steven Chu Chosen as Commencement Speaker

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will speak at this year’s Commencement on May 15. The school reached this decision earlier in the week.

The Obama Administration appointed Chu to the Secretary of Energy post in 2009. Before his appointment, Chu was a Professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Chu is also an advocate of alternative energy and promotes shifting away from fossil fuels in order to combat climate change.

Chu was nominated by Vice President and Dean of the College Cecilia Conrad to speak at Commencement and was one of over twenty candidates considered by the Honoree Degrees Committee to be this year’s Commencement speaker. The Honoree Degrees Committee consists of Pomona College President David Oxtoby, The Board of Trustees, and the Junior and Senior Class Presidents.

According to Senior Class President Meredith Willis PO ’11, choosing a Commencement speaker was an extensive process, which involved reviewing all nominations and evaluating the candidates’ accomplishments and relevance to the Class of 2011.

“While we considered accomplishments and achievements, we definitely kept in mind charisma and rhetorical ability,” Willis said. “Graduating from college is such a prominent event in one’s life and we wanted a speaker who could truly let the class of 2011 go with words to motivate and inspire.”

In 2007, the year the Class of 2011 entered Pomona, Environmental Analysis Professor Rick Hazlett gave the Convocation speech. Willis noted that Hazlett’s speech inspired many members of the class to become involved in environmental issues. Given the environmental concerns of the Class of 2011, Willis felt Chu was a perfect choice as Commencement speaker.

“While we did consider other candidates, the predominant interest of our class in the environment and energy resources was a special consideration that we thought made Steven Chu a very attractive candidate,” Willis said. “I think having a Commencement speaker who is an expert researcher in alternative forms of energy is pertinent and will resonate with many members of the Class of 2011.”

According to Bowen Close, Pomona’s Sustainability Integration Office Coordinator, Chu will be able to bring a valuable perspective on national policy issues and sustainability and energy issues at such a high level. For students who have spent four years studying policy and energy issues, Close said, Chu’s real-world world experiences will be particularly important.

“For me, Chu’s work in the Department of Energy focuses exactly on the right kind of environmental and political innovations the United States needs to move towards energy independence, cleaner air and water, international climate leadership, and a new green economy,” said Nik Tyack PO ’11, a biology major and an active member of Pomona for Environmental Activism and Responsibility (PEAR), the student environmental group on campus.

Though many students were interested in Chu’s experience with environmental issues, other seniors were excited by his background as a physicist and government policymaker.

“Not only is he someone who helps determine policy on a national scale, but he is also a dedicated scientist who truly understands the intricacies of research,” said Joel Shuman PO ’11, a physics major. “Steven Chu is an excellent example of scientist turned policy maker who can serve as a role model for all graduating students.”

Given last year’s protests over the decision to invite Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to speak at Commencement, Willis acknowledged that the Honoree Degrees Committee took into consideration how the graduating seniors would react to this year’s Commencement speaker. Though Chu is a political figure, Willis does not see him as someone who would attract controversy.

“Commencement is a huge event in any college student’s life, and obviously any college that has a graduating ceremony wants it to go off without a hitch,” Willis said. “Last year, Janet Napolitano attracted a lot of protests leading up to and during the Commencement event itself, but fortunately the candidates we considered this year were not of the same controversial nature.”

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