Minnesota successes to share stories, advice at commencement

Stacy Jo

The 2,000 College of Liberal Arts seniors graduating this spring can expect a cozier, more localized theme than their predecessors last spring.
The June 13 ceremony will be held in two rounds at Northrop Auditorium rather than one ceremony at the cavernous Williams Arena. Local celebrities Ann Bancroft and Garrison Keillor will add a Minnesota flavor to the proceedings, whereas U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who spoke last year, concentrated on national issues.
Bancroft, an Antarctic explorer and educator, will address the 10 a.m. graduates and Keillor, an author and humorist, will speak to the 2 p.m. crowd. Organizers have long tried to solicit Bancroft and Keillor, but neither has spoken at a University commencement ceremony before.
“We’re feeling especially lucky this year,” said Tom Trow, CLA director of community and cultural affairs. Graduates are directed to attend a designated ceremony based on their majors.
Bancroft, a Twin Cities native, led the first all-female expedition to Antarctica, becoming the first woman to reach both the North and South poles across the ice. She plans to walk across Antarctica next year.
Keillor, a CLA alumnus, hosts Minnesota Public Radio’s “Prairie Home Companion.” He recently wrote a political satire based loosely on Gov. Jesse Ventura’s election and has written several other books.
“The most common comment I’m getting is that people wish they could go to both” ceremonies, Trow said.
The decision to have two Minnesotans address this year’s CLA graduates — two-thirds of which are expected to attend the ceremonies — was intentional, Trow said. The point is for graduates to hear success stories from people who are like them, he added.
“(Keillor) really brings the Minnesota component into his speeches,” said Anders Carlson, a CLA graduating senior who will attend the afternoon ceremony.
Carlson is one of two students serving on the committee that generates suggestions for potential speakers. The plausibility of the eight-member committee’s ideas are examined and forwarded to CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone for final review.
Although organizers considered last year’s commencement a success, committee members felt strongly about returning the ceremonies to Northrop Auditorium, Trow said. Because the building only accommodates 4,700 people, two services are necessary, he added.
Although there is no certain ideal that graduates expect from a commencement speaker, most want someone who will contribute to a memorable experience, Trow said.
Aside from someone who is recognizable and appealing to students, Carlson said graduates want a commencement speaker to serve another purpose.
“I think students want a speaker to bring together their college experience and answer the ‘So now what?’ question,” Carlson said.