Biologist Beth Shapiro to Speak at HMC Commencement

Evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro will speak at Harvey Mudd College’s commencement this May. Shapiro, who was selected by the class of 2014, specializes in the genetics of ice age plants and animals. Her work focuses on how climate change
affects species and why some species go extinct while others do not. 

“In a commencement speech, what we really care about is the character of the speaker,” Senior Class President Jack Ma HM ’14 said, adding that the speaker should be well-rounded, motivated, and skilled at public speaking.  

A professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Shapiro travels throughout Alaska, Siberia, and Canada to collect the remains of animals such as mammoths, giant bears, and extinct camels and horses, according to a press release published by HMC. She was recently named a Searle Scholar, Packard Fellow, and National Geographic Explorer, and in 2009, she received a MacArthur Fellowship.

As at Scripps College, HMC seniors are allowed to nominate individual candidates. Among the list of 80 individuals HMC seniors
nominated, President Maria Klawe chose a smaller number of candidates to pursue. 

HMC has had a mix of male and female commencement speakers, but according to Ma, Klawe prefers female commencement speakers because she wants to support women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Okasaki HM ’17 expressed support for Klawe’s preference. 

“I think a lot of what makes
Harvey Mudd special is the amount of effort our president has put into
emphasizing getting more women into STEM,” he said. “I think it is great that the commencement speaker is a woman.”  

Ma said that this year the college was intent on finding a female commencement speaker because for the past two years the speaker was male. 

After Klawe approved a slate of four nominees, the seniors voted to invite Shapiro as this year’s commencement speaker. Slightly more than 50 percent of the senior class participated in voting. 

Although HMC is known for its strength in computer science and other fields of engineering, Brent Stapleton HM ’14 noted that a commencement speaker’s skill in rhetoric is often more important than the individual’s ability or prestige in his or her field.

“I guess we’ll have to see how good of a speaker she is,” he said.

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