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Harkin to address '98 baccalaureate

Sen. Tom Harkin, a legislator with a wide array of policy interests and political experiences, will be the Class of 1998 baccalaureate speaker, the University announced yesterday.

Harkin, D-Iowa, is best known as the sponsor of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. A three-term senator, Harkin has also focused on agriculture, education and health-care legislation.

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The 1992 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination exemplifies the "spirit of public leadership" that the University hopes its graduates will embrace, Vice President and Secretary Tom Wright '62 said.

Harkin also has personal ties to the University. His daughter, Amy, is a member of the senior class.

"He's a symbol of the family's importance in helping students succeed at Princeton," said senior class president Patricia Chi '98.

In addition, Harkin is a friend of President Shapiro, Wright said. "There's no question that there's real admiration for him both personally and as a public figure," he added.

The process of finding a speaker for the May 31 address began last spring when class officers asked members of the Class of 1998 for suggestions, Chi said, adding that Harkin's was among the names that surfaced at that time.

The final decision on inviting baccalaureate speakers rests with Shapiro, who was not available for comment yesterday. "We tried to have more involvement than in previous years, but ultimately the decision was not ours," Chi said.

Honoring Harkin

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Dean of Religious Life Joseph Williamson, who coordinates the baccalaureate ceremony, said the administration wanted to honor Harkin for his public service.

"We were grateful for his contribution and thought it made a nice touch to include him as a voice here on campus when his daughter is graduating," Williamson said.

Amy is Harkin's oldest daughter so this will be his first college graduation as a parent. "I'm sure he's a little bit nervous but very excited," said Jennifer Frost, the senator's deputy press secretary.

Frost said Harkin had not yet decided the theme of his speech. In a conversation with the senator, Wright said Harkin asked if it would be acceptable to be funny in the normally serious chapel.

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Harkin's baccalaureate speech will be the third in four years by a white, male senator. However, officials stressed yesterday that the trend is not intentional.

"Certainly there was some question about that," Chi said, "but questions of availability came up, and he is a parent of a member of the class of '98."

Wright said the pattern was "accidental" and that in the past 20 years, about half the speakers have been women or minorities. He also said "balance and diversity" would be reflected in other graduation events.