Women Commencement Speakers Are On The Rise This Graduation Season

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Jury members Ava DuVernay, left, and Cate Blanchett pose for photographers at the signing of the Gender Equality Pledge during the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Monday, May 14, 2018. Cornell University is bringing in film director Ava DuVernay, who directed "Selma" and the documentary "13th." She will be the first woman of color to give Cornell’s speech in a decade. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – For the 2018 spring commencement season, nearly 60% of speakers at the 25 schools with the largest endowments are women.

That’s the first time women have been in the majority as speakers in nearly 20 years.

Cornell University is bringing in film director Ava DuVernay, who directed “Selma” and the documentary “13th.” She will be the first woman of color to give Cornell’s speech in a decade.

Elizabeth Gorman, chair of the Senior Convocation Committee at Cornell says their process to choose a speaker is unique because it’s completely student run. Gorman says without tokenizing, they wanted someone who was a storyteller, and who could speak to many of the politics of the last year.

“Her background, in that she didn’t go to film school, she came to it later in life really spoke to following passions, overcoming hurtles, especially in the context of being a woman of color in the United States in this time.”

Gorman says their student body and who is going to college in general is changing dramatically and commencement speakers should represent that as well.

“It’s changing, it’s not just politicians, it’s not just government officials, it’s not just famous alumni. I think people’s conceptions of what success and inspiration look like is evolving in a really positive way.”

Gorman says she is glad and not surprised that this is a trend in speakers this year.

She says the last year has upset the status quo in some big ways that her generation is excited about.

DuVernay will be speaking at Senior Convocation at Cornell on Saturday May 26th. Their 150th commencement is on Sunday May 27th.

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