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Speaker stirs mixed reviews

Irena Zajickova | Friday, January 15, 2010

The announcement that NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will be the principal speaker at Notre Dame’s commencement was met with a variety of reactions from this year’s senior class.

Although the choice has not garnered such explosive backlash and criticism as last year’s choice, President Barack Obama, some students are still not in favor of the selection, while others are waiting to hear Williams’ speech before they make up their minds. Senior Adam Woodruff falls into the latter category.

“I don’t really have a strong opinion either way,” Woodruff said. “Hopefully [Brian Williams] will have some worthwhile advice for us.”

Michelle Hackner expressed a similar opinion, and said she did not have high hopes for the speaker in the first place, especially after last year’s controversy, which featured on- and off-campus protests and a large amount of criticism from religious groups as well as Notre Dame students and alumni.

“The choice is not someone I’m thrilled about, but it’s a lot better than I expected,” Hackner said. “I thought the University would pick someone completely obscure after all the controversy last year.”

Hackner also said this year’s speaker has not generated as much debate among students as last year’s selection did.

“The reaction isn’t as strong this time,” Hackner said. “There are few people who could generate more controversy at Notre Dame than Obama.”

Senior Michelle Perone is optimistic that Mr. Williams will be able to deliver a relevant and interesting message to the class of 2010, especially because of his diverse experiences as a reporter. Among other topics, Williams has covered the collapse of the Berlin Wall and has spent time with military units in Iraq.

“He’s a really respected journalist so he’s definitely well-informed about what’s going on in the world,” Perone said. “He’s had a lot of interesting experiences, and if he can do a good job transferring that into a speech then I think he’d make a really good speaker.”

Other seniors, such as Allegra Gassman, are frustrated with this year’s choice.

“I get that people who are interested in political science or journalism will be interested in what Mr. Williams has to say, but I bet a lot of students probably don’t really know who he is or don’t really watch NBC news,” Gassman said. “They could have picked a CEO or someone else who has led an interesting life but is more accessible to a wider range of students.”

Gassman also expressed disappointment that students did not have any input into choosing the speaker.

“I don’t know if it’s only a select group of students that get to help choose, but I didn’t receive any information about that and neither did any of my friends,” Gassman said. “It’s our graduation, so I feel like every senior should get to make a suggestion or somehow influence the selection process.”