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4.0 seniors vie for valedictorian, Larkin selected

Adam Llorens | Thursday, April 28, 2011

As the Commencement Ceremony approaches each spring semester, the University is faced with the difficult task of selecting a valedictorian from among the top students of the graduating class.

This year, Edward Larkin, a biological sciences major from East Lansing, Mich., was awarded the honor. However, Larkin was not the only graduating senior from the class of 2011 with a 4.0 GPA.

Because a number of graduating seniors boast 4.0s, the selection process for singling out a valedictorian requires looking beyond the numbers.

Vice President and Associate Provost Dennis Jacobs heads the selection committee that chooses the valedictorian. Jacobs said the committee solicits speech submissions from all potential valedictorians.

“The selection committee is comprised of faculty, staff and students and invites the top students from each college to compose a valedictory address which would be given at the Commencement Ceremony,” Jacobs said. “We then record them reading their address and create an audio file of each speech.”

Jacobs said all five colleges were represented in the candidate pool.

“This year, we invited three students from the Colleges of Arts and Letters, Business, Engineering and Science and one student from the College of Architecture.”

Some candidates have declined to submit speeches in the past, Jacobs said.

“Not all of the students actually choose to write an address for multiple reasons — among others, the apprehension to deliver a speech in front of thousands of people at Commencement,” Jacobs said. “Of [this year’s candidates], all chose to actually write a sample address.”

After listening to all of the candidates’ submissions, the selection committee narrows their options down to a smaller group of especially compelling addresses.

“We then proceed to look at the résumés and letters of recommendation for these students to get to know them as a person,” Jacobs said. “From this, we pick a smaller group to interview face-to-face.”

After these final interviews — and much anticipation amongst the interviewees — the valedictorian is selected.

The initial candidates are also given the opportunity compose an invocation, the opening prayer delivered at the beginning of the Commencement Ceremony. The candidate chosen to give the invocation is recognized in addition to the selected valedictorian.

“The 4.0 GPA candidates can choose which address they would like to write,” Jacobs said. “Both the valedictorian and the invocation addresser are announced together.”

This year, Michelle Maurin, a mathematics major from Houston, will deliver the invocation at Commencement on May 22.