National Football League (NFL) running back Marshawn Lynch has been chosen to speak at Class Day on June 1, according to an email sent to the Class of 2020.
Lynch, a Super Bowl champion and member of the Seattle Seahawks, played in the NFL for 12 years and appeared in five Pro Bowls. The University noted in an announcement that the University of California, Berkeley graduate “is known for his community service and social justice work.”
Class Day co-chairs Jonathan Haynes ’20, Jaylin Lugardo ’20, and Caleb Visser ’20 announced the decision in an email to members of the Class of 2020 at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 25. In this message, they wrote that their goal was “to invite a speaker who embodies the various experiences” of University students and “whose professional and personal passions speak to the service-focused and intellectually rigorous interests core to the University.”
“Mr. Lynch’s sustained professional excellence is not the only reason we are excited to have him serve as our Class Day speaker,” the trio wrote. “His substantive work in communities stands alongside his on-field success.”
Their message went on to highlight Lynch’s philanthropic efforts in his hometown of Oakland, Calif. and around the world — shining a spotlight on the Fam 1St Family Foundation, football clinics, and the running back’s summit at South by Southwest in which he celebrated the achievements of students who attended historically black colleges and universities.
“From his stops in the Bay Area, to Buffalo, to Seattle, Mr. Lynch has always prioritized community engagement and empowerment by leveraging his prominence as a professional athlete to promote opportunities for civic engagement and social justice,” Haynes, Lugardo, and Visser added.
Nicknamed “Beast Mode” for his explosive running style, Lynch’s speech will come just months after the University celebrated the 150th anniversary of college football and its role in founding the sport.
Lynch gained notoriety throughout his career for skipping press conferences and ignoring media questions, receiving over $100K in fines from the NFL. During Super Bowl Media Day, he famously answered more than 20 questions with variations of the phrase “I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” a phrase that he later trademarked.
Despite some former teammates considering Lynch an introvert, he has been an outspoken advocate for civic engagement and social justice. In their message to the Class of 2020, Haynes, Lugardo, and Visser described Lynch as an advocate for social justice, financial literacy, and a host of other issues.
“During our time as students, we have seen professional athletes take up the mantle of critiquing some of the most systemic challenges facing our society,” they wrote. “Marshawn Lynch has courageously engaged in these debates.”
Will Johnson ’20, a defensive back on the University football team, referred to the news that Lynch will be speaking as “beyond amazing.” In a statement to The Daily Princetonian, Johnson praised Lynch’s work with disadvantaged communities in Oakland and wrote that Lynch “represents a tremendous black ambassador and leader in our society.”
“As a black football player myself, I’m proud that Princeton University recognizes the excellence that Marshawn Lynch represents, and I hope the student body can learn a lot from a man who at first glance appears egregiously juxtaposed to a majority of the student body,” Johnson wrote.
Members of the Class of 2020 will also hear from journalist and 2018 Time Person of the Year Maria Ressa ’86, who will deliver the Baccalaureate speech on May 31.