To the Class of 2020,
Recently, a few of our classmates shared, via The Daily Princetonian, an open letter to us, the Class Day Committee. In it, the students raised questions about the process of the Class Day speaker selection and our specific selection of Marshawn Lynch as the 2020 Class Day speaker. By all accounts, we understand this to be the opinion of only a handful of members of our class, but we thought it would also be appropriate to address the Class as a whole in order to provide some clarification and reflections on these topics.
First, the process for Commencement Committee planning began in May 2019, when the elected Class Government solicited applications to contribute and lead in the planning of the graduation, an open opportunity for our classmates to participate in the Class Day selection process.
This group consists of 40 members of our class, serving to facilitate the coordination of the dozens of campus partners who make our three-day graduation possible. Given how many moving pieces this includes, we understand how the process and its constraints may seem opaque to the uninvolved eye. The Class Day speaker is inducted into our class as an honorary member — not to be confused with having an honorary degree — out of a spirit of generosity. Because of this, Class Day speaker recruitment is a complicated process that relies heavily on a speaker’s willingness to visit Princeton and provide us with their time without compensation.
In theory, inviting publicly ranked speakers sounds great. In reality, however, moving down a public list and inviting potential speakers one-by-one would present important logistical challenges:
What speaker would accept an invitation knowing that they were ranked, in any order, on a list with 200 others? What if the date — which is immovable — presented a conflict for that speaker? What if the speaker is simply uninterested in the opportunity? Instead, the current Class Day Committee process involves the intentional consideration of the shared values between the speaker and the senior class, and then extending an invitation that we hope will be accepted, as we did with Marshawn Lynch.
It is for these reasons that virtually all student-focused events, such as the USG concert, comedy shows featuring prominent acts, and other invitations to human beings with agency do not function in this way. We trust that students can discern the differences between inviting speakers and conducting a popular vote on a class jacket design.
Regarding Mr. Lynch as our Class Day speaker, we as a committee firmly stand by our selection, and are thrilled by his acceptance.
There are endless selection criteria one may imagine for a decision as anticipated as a Class Day speaker; each class should be able to choose what standard criteria to consider for itself. In our first conversations as a committee, we established the guiding role we wanted our shared values to play in the process, prioritizing values of inclusion, authenticity, service, and integrity that ignite intellectualism to action.
We also wanted to honor and acknowledge our experiences as the first class to see a comprehensive focus on the first-generation low-income (FLI) student experience, a variety of athletic accomplishments with the contributions of the 235 student-athletes in our class, innovation in social entrepreneurship on campus, as well as our class’s commitment to activism and civic engagement.
As our initial letter states, Mr. Lynch embodies these values and experiences without a large media presence and instead with a prioritization of application over rhetoric. Even since our announcement, Mr. Lynch has expressed interest in finding ways to further connect with the Princeton community leading up to Class Day. This initiative alone reaffirms our choice in our Class Day speaker.
Unfortunately, the open letter shifted the conversation away from the celebration of the perspective that Mr. Lynch will bring to Class Day, and toward a troubling implication as to the concept of “worthiness” in addressing our class. In implying that Mr. Lynch’s values and experiences are not Princeton enough for the Class Day stage, the letter tacitly invalidates the very same values and experiences of our own classmates. The fact is that inclusion, authenticity, service, and integrity do not have one look, come from one place, or occupy a single profession.
And finally, we want to speak on this personally. One of the most special things about our Class is how close we are. Our Princeton experiences have been shaped and enriched by how the intimacy of our campus community facilitates dialogue across differences.
Whether through lingering zee group study breaks, hasty TigerBook searches, random residential dining tables, or heated academic precepts, we have developed our capacity to engage with others, especially those with whom we may not always agree. Throughout the process, we have engendered conversations about our shared values and experiences. We appreciate those who have reached out to us directly during this time to offer feedback and suggestions.
Overall, we are incredibly grateful to Mr. Lynch for voluntarily investing his time into our community and Class Day. We are excited to wrap up our few remaining months together and are eager to welcome Mr. Lynch to campus.
Caleb Visser, Jaylin Lugardo, and Jonathan Haynes
Princeton 2020 Class Day Co-Chairs