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In Class Day Speech, Kemper ’02 encourages graduates to pursue kindness

Danielle Alio / Office of Communications
Danielle Alio / Office of Communications

Actress and comedian Ellie Kemper ’02 encouraged the graduates of the Class of 2019 to “be nice to one another” and choose to be happy over being “sensational” during her Class Day speech on Monday, June 3.

“Being sensational is not the same thing as being happy,” Kemper said. “Trust me on this. I’ve lived longer than you.”


Kemper drew from the unpredictability of her own acting career and the ever-changing menu of Wawa to advise students to be adaptable.

“Things never go quite according to her plan,” Kemper said. “Life is always changing and we have to adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to change your course.”

For much of the speech, Kemper talked about fighting feelings of discouragement and despair, outlining an email exchange between her and a former fellow Quipfire! member who gave her the motivation to continue through a difficult period in her life.

“More important than any career accomplishment is your ability and inclination to help one another,” Kemper said. “That may sound trite, but what graduation speech doesn’t?”

Kemper mentioned how she and her roommate from the University are still best friends today.

“Nurture the friendships that you’ve made here, because they will sustain you for a lifetime,” Kemper said. “None of this means anything if you don’t have one another’s backs.”


The ceremony began with President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 giving a humorous introduction to the event, devoting much of his speech to the University’s obsession with campus squirrels, mentioning the rise of animal dorm invasions last April.

“We at Princeton take squirrels seriously,” Eisgruber said. “The class of 2019 has treated squirrels with the respect for others that they deserve, that our rules require, and that our campus, and indeed our country, so badly need.”

Class Day, a historical tradition planned and presented by members of the senior class, dates back to 1856. It includes speeches from officers of the class government, class boards, awards, and a keynote speaker.   

He then awarded the Class of 2019 the Keys to the University along with a giant stuffed squirrel.

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Soon afterward, class president Chris Umanzor ’19 praised the Class of 2019’s “genuine amity” and kindness to one another.

Umanzor is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.

“The people in front of me, whom I’ve had the honor of serving for four years now, are truly remarkable human beings,” Umanzor said. “We are curious and capable. We are a resilient, diverse group of students that appreciates the construction of spaces aimed at ensuring that everyone, irrespective of their background and identity, can succeed.”

Umanzor also mentioned being “miffed” by the baccalaureate speech given by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author George Will GS ’68 Umanzor said that his class was “empathetic and enterprising” and not a part of what the “culture of contempt” coined by Arthur Brooks and mentioned in Will’s speech.

“Here’s to keeping our visions 20x20, and our spirit 2019,” Umanzor said.

The class heralds also helped entertain the soon-to-be graduates over the course of the ceremony. Chris Kellogg-Peeler ’19 listed his ten mostly sarcastic “hot takes” pertaining to the University, including that President Eisgruber was “overrated,” that the Street was “actually pretty fun,” and that the beer jackets “smell incredible.”

“If there’s one thing that Tiger Confessions has taught me, it’s that the Princeton community is full of critical thinkers capable of espousing just the spiciest of hot takes,” Kellogg-Peeler said.

Later in the ceremony, Maya Rita Aronoff ’19 spoke on hoping that their time on campus was not “the best four years” of their lives, outlining the ways in which the University lived up to expectations, and some of the ways it fell short.

“I learned that boys were just as disappointing here as they were in high school, just now with higher SAT scores,” Aronoff said.

Aronoff also mentioned the history of student advocacy on campus, from the 2015 Black Justice League protests to the more recent Princeton Students for Title IX Reform sit-in.

Class Day also recognized a number of senior class members receive for various awards. Michael Wisner ’19 received the Allen Macy Dulles ’51 Award for best exemplifying the University’s motto for serving the nation and humanity. Kauribel Javier ’19 received the Frederick Douglass service award for courage and leadership in contributing to a deeper understanding of the experiences of racial minorities, and Jordan Salama ’19 received the Harold Willis Dodds Achievement Prize for clear thinking, moral courage, and considering the perspectives of others.

Two additional awards were voted on by the senior class. The W. Sanderson Detwiler 1903 Prize was awarded to Umanzor for doing the most for his class, and the Walter E. Hope Class of 1901 Medal was given to Rachel Yee ’19 for doing the most for the University as a whole.

Within the athletic awards, Lauren Barnard ’19 received the Class of 1916 Cup for having the highest academic standing of a senior varsity letter winner. John Lovett ’19 received the William Winston Roper Trophy for being the top male sportsman overall, and Claire Collins ’19 received the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award for being the overall top senior sportswoman. Carly Bonnet ’19, Kurt Holuba ’19, Sydney Jordan ’19, and Ryan Wilson ’19 received the Arthur Lane ’34 Citizen Athlete Award for selfless contribution to sport and society by an undergraduate athlete.

The ceremony also recognized the honorary members of the Class of 2019, who were: Khristina Gonzalez, associate dean of the college and director of programs for access and inclusion; Richard Kitto ’69, president of the Class of 1969; Catalina Maldonado-Lopez, a member of the Campus Dining staff and University Services; Joyce Carol Oates, the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities Emeritus; musician and author Questlove; Carolyn Rouse, professor of anthropology and department chair; Matthew Weiner, associate dean of religious life; and finally Kemper, honored for her career as an actress and as Class Day Speaker.

The ceremony took place June 3 at 10:30 a.m. on Cannon Green.