Former alum to speak at this year’s commencement service

by Allison McNealStaff Writer

The 2008-09 Simpson College commencement speaker will be Cheryl Thomas, former alumnae of the college and a women’s rights activist.Thomas graduated from Simpson in 1979 and then went to the University of Minnesota Law School in 1985. Since graduating, she has been involved with women’s human rights and a number of organizations and leadership roles around the world.President John Byrd said that Thomas is an excellent choice for commencement.”She’s a dynamic speaker with a great message,” Byrd said. “Thomas has done a lot of great things since leaving Simpson, and we’re delighted that she’s coming back.”The decision to narrow down those that were possible candidates was in the hands of the commencement speaker committee, led by Byrd. The committee consisted of students, administrators and faculty members of the college. Steve Griffith, vice president and dean for academic affairs, chaired the committee.The committee also consisted of three students including seniors Kyle Liske, student body president; Matt Olson, senior class president and Andrew Reid, student body vice president.Four faculty members, including Senior Advancement Officer Chris Goodale, Professor of Management Marilyn Mueller, Ryan Rehmeier, assistant professor of biology, and Professor of Mathematics Murphy Waggoner.The process for choosing this year’s speaker first started when Liske, Olson and Reid met before May Term last year and sent out e-mails to the student body asking who they wanted to speak at graduation.When the three students came back in the fall, they chose faculty who had good input and different ideas for candidates.”Much of the committee noticed that we had a lot of male commencement speakers,” Reid said. “So we tried to find more diversity and make it different from past years.”According to Olson, the committee had a tough task narrowing down the candidates to speak.”We had nominations for Kurt Warner, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama,” Olson said. “We also were interested in Martha Turnis, only one of two female Iowa supreme court justices.”In the end, the top three candidates they chose were Rekha Basu, columnist for the Des Moines Register, Susan Voss, Iowa insurance commissioner and Thomas.Thomas was the candidate that stood out most to the committee.”The other two candidates had really interesting biographies, but Thomas’s message seemed to relate to Simpson more,” Liske said.The committee determined that Thomas would be most beneficial for the graduates.”None of us had really heard much about Thomas until we read more about her,” Reid said. “She had a very interesting life and seemed like she would be one to leave the senior class with a useful message.”Though Thomas agreed to speak, Olson believes that they need to start the nomination process a few years in advance.”Many of the candidates had prior commitments during May,” Olson said. “If we start the process early, we might have a larger group to choose from.”Reid agreed.”Everything’s been done in a year time frame, so we need to do it two or three years in advance,” said Reid. “We can learn from prior years and start to get the process going now, instead of waiting.”According to Byrd, the process will be started earlier for the graduating class of 2010.”Right after spring break, I’m going to ask Steve Griffith to convene a commencement group,” Byrd said. “If we start a year in advance, the earlier we can extend our invitation to the nominees.”Although the committee didn’t get a huge head start this year, Reid believes that Thomas is going to leave a resounding message to the graduating class.”We want all the seniors to come out of graduation remembering something about the day and the moment a person spoke to them,” Reid said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a celebrity or Joe six pack, it’s about what they get out of it. We believe Thomas can give students something to take away and remember for the rest of their lives.”