Since 2000, celebrities like Conan O’Brien ’85, Bono, Al Franken ’73, Will Ferrell, and Sacha Baron Cohen, who spoke last year, have addressed the senior class and their guests.
“I think it’s a popular misconception that the Class Day speaker is supposed to be a comedian,” First Class Marshal Caleb I. Franklin ’05 said. “In years before we’ve had Corretta Scott King, in other years we’ve had Mother Theresa. The class day speaker is actually a very flexible role.”
In what may be a reaction to the off-color antics of last year’s Class Day speaker, the administration also encouraged the class marshals to select a speaker who was not a comedian and who would appeal to parents and family members of graduates as well, said Second Class Marshal Sheria D. Smith ’05.
“We actually had a meeting with the deans who expressed their displeasure with the current trend of Class Day speakers, particularly with Ali G of last year,” she said. “The sentiment that was laid out for us was that they really wanted us to go away from the trend and that there would be very few comedians that would get approved because of Ali G.”
Cohen, who performs under the name Ali G, included jokes about marijuana and sex that offended some attendees at last year’s Class Day.
Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 could not be reached for comment.
Franklin added that aside from his more universal appeal, Russert has a unique and relevant perspective on the events that have effected this year’s graduates.
“The world has changed dramatically since members of the Class of 2005 entered Harvard four years ago,” second class marshal Dominique D.T. Nong ’05 said in a statement. “Tim Russert has significantly contributed to our efforts to elucidate and make sense of these changes. As we prepare to go out into this new world, I look forward to the opportunity to learn from the wisdom and insights of Mr. Russert.”
Nong could not be reached for comment today.
Russert is the managing editor and moderator of Meet the Press, a leading Sunday morning political show. A political analyst for NBC Nightly News and the Today Show, Russert also anchors the weekly CNBC interview program The Tim Russert Show and periodically contributes to MSNBC.
Russert joins Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, and Jane Pauley as newsmedia celebrities who have addressed Harvard graduates on Class Day.
Class Day will take place June 8, the day before Commencement, and is open to seniors and their guests.
Actor John A. Lithgow ’67 will be this year’s Commencement Day speaker.
—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.