National Science Foundation Director to Speak at Pomona Commencement

Pomona College announced this week that National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova will be the principal speaker for the college’s 122nd Commencement for the class of 2015.

President David Oxtoby wrote in an email to TSL that Córdova, who graduated from high school in nearby La Puente, was originally an English major at Stanford University until she discovered a passion for astronomy. This interest carried her through leadership positions at University of California, Riverside and Purdue University to her current position at NSF, which Oxtoby described as being “perhaps the leading position for science policy and support in the United States.”

“France Cordova is an outstanding scientist with an inspiring life story to tell,” Oxtoby wrote.

Córdova was chosen through an extensive selection process that involved a pool of college community members. The Board of Trustees’ Honorary Degrees Committee, which consists of trustees, faculty and student members, makes recommendations for both the principal commencement speaker and other honorary degree recipients based on recommendations submitted by various members of the campus community.

“The faculty and student representatives are asked to solicit names from their colleagues,” Oxtoby wrote. “Usually the committee will receive names a year or more in advance and it often takes many months to secure the speaker.”

According to the Pomona College website, other speakers and honorary degree awardees include Michael Dickerson PO ’01, appointed deputy chief information officer and administrator of U.S. Digital Services in August; Andrew Hoyem PO ’57, poet and founder of Arion Press; and Stephen R. Reinhardt PO ’51, judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Don Swan PO ’15 served as junior class president last year and sat on the Honorary Degree Committee. Swan wrote in an email to TSL that he sent out two surveys to the class of 2015 early in the fall 2013 semester to collect recommendations for commencement speakers. According to Swan, over a third of the class responded to the first survey and over 60% to the second survey, which asked students to choose their top three candidates from a list of 10 names selected based on the results of the first survey.

Swan wrote that some other popular nominations from his classmates included Amy Poehler, David Sedaris, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Will Ferrell. He said that even though these nominations from the class were considered by the Honorary Degree Committee, the committee did not reach out to all of these candidates.

According to the May 17, 2014 summary of Board of Trustees Actions, the board approved the recommendation for Córdova to be  awarded an honorary degree an year later at the May 17, 2015 Commencement.

Oxtoby presides over the ultimate selection of the primary commencement speaker. According to Oxtoby, however, the Board of Trustees and faculty must approve the honorary degree recipients.

“[T]he awarding of all honorary degrees must be approved by the Cabinet of the faculty (consisting of all full professors as well as the president, dean of the college, and dean of students) and the Board of Trustees,” Oxtoby wrote.

The Pomona College 2015 commencement ceremony will take place May 17 at Marston Quadrangle.

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