Follow the Daily Bruin's coverage of Skirball fire. 

Thursday, December 14

Commencement speaker elicits lukewarm student response


(Emaan Baqai/Daily Bruin)

(Emaan Baqai/Daily Bruin)


Students expressed confusion and tepid approval about the recent announcement of UCLA alumnus Nathan Myhrvold as the keynote speaker for this year’s College of Letters and Science commencement ceremony.

Most students, when asked for their thoughts on Myhrvold, were unaware that he is scheduled to speak and did not know who he is or what he has accomplished.

Joseph Rudnick, senior dean of the College of Letters and Science, said the commencement speaker selection committee – which consists of two faculty and two students and is chaired by Dean of Humanities David Schaberg – chose him because they believe he can inspire students and because he is tied to UCLA.

“We try to find a speaker who we think is going to be inspirational by example and is able to give a speech that the undergraduates will find compelling,” Rudnick said. “We would also like them to have a UCLA connection.”

Seven out of the last 10 commencement speakers have been UCLA alumni.

Myhrvold graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in geophysics and space physics in 1979.

“(Myhrvold is) not a household name, but he is somebody whose life should be inspiring,” Rudnick said. “He’s worked in science, in technology, in cooking and in a number of different areas.”

In 1983, Myhrvold was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University, researching cosmology, quantum field theory and quantum theories of gravitation with Stephen Hawking for a year. He also served as chief technology officer for Microsoft from 1996 to 2000 and founded a company that manages one of the largest intellectual property portfolios in the world, Intellectual Ventures.

An interview with Myhrvold could not be arranged for this article.

Some students said they were enthusiastic about the selection of Myhrvold as their commencement ceremony speaker.

“He sounds like a good option and (is) well-rounded,” said Colby Ellis, a second-year economics student. “He seems like someone who can show what you can do with an education from the College of Letters and Science.”

Fahima Zaman, a fourth-year integrated biology and physiological sciences student, said she thought Myhrvold sounds interesting, but she remembers that President Barack Obama spoke at UC Irvine’s commencement ceremony last year.

“I wanted something on par with that,” Zaman said.

Other students expressed some reservations about Myhrvold’s ability to relate to graduates.

Gloria Garcia, a fourth-year sociology student, said that as a social science major she would find it hard to connect with Myhrvold.

“It’s hard to connect with him because he’s a south campus major,” Garcia said.

Miriam Ramirez, a fourth-year sociology student, agreed.

“It is your graduation, so you want someone you can connect to,” she said. “Fame isn’t important but he has to be relatable.”

Myhrvold will speak at the College of Letters and Science’s commencement ceremony on June 12.

Contributing reports by Darakhsha Siddiqi, Bruin contributor.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.

  • Cassidy

    The fact that his “Intellectual Ventures” company is one of the largest patent trolls in the world is not the kind of inspiration we’re looking for…..

  • RB

    We really need to step up our game for commencement speakers. I’d rather them not have a tie to UCLA and have more to say or be figures who are actually well known. Commencement speakers can add prestige to a university and bring positive attention from outside the community.

  • Guest of a Guest

    Too many students are focused on the brand and prestige of commencement speakers rather than the actual achievement that is possible and resonates with the graduating class. However in this case the speaker is too narrow of a focus (the quote about Nathan Myhrvold being south campus majors demonstrates how tuned out a majority of graduates will be at the ceremony). As great as his work and experience has been, it doesn’t help that even a majority of south campus might not even know who he is. Everyone wants someone with name recognition on par with the President, but UCLA hasn’t had a notable speaker (or one who isn’t a middle aged male) in some time. You would think UCLA has enough pull in it’s ranks to make a call or two. I get that they try to invite UCLA Alumni, but couldn’t they at least get some of those notable living alum who the UCLA marketing team was plastering all over the place?