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Students campaign for Ellen as Commencement Speaker

Several Mills seniors recently began a campaign to get comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to speak at the 2010 commencement ceremony. After meeting with College officials however, the students learned DeGeneres’ staff said she would not be available, and are now wondering what to do next.

“I hate to disappoint the other seniors working towards getting her to come for commencement,” said senior class president Rebecca Waterhouse, who met with both President Jan Holmgren to get approval, and then with Renee Jadushlever, Vice President for Operations, who officially invited DeGeneres. “Maybe we can get her next year if (the class of 2011) starts working now.”

However, students are not giving up on their dream of seeing DeGeneres speak at Mills next spring.

“We were told she couldn’t speak at commencement due to scheduling conflicts with her show. However, we invited her so far in advance that perhaps if we gave her an incentive to speak at Mills she would be willing to reschedule” said senior Tarra La Valley, one of the movement’s main organizers. “If there is still enough student interest, we’ll go ahead and continue with the original plan to get Ellen’s attention and hopefully she’ll reconsider.”

Students campaigned to have DeGeneres as the 2010 commencement speaker mainly though Facebook. They set up a group page on the popular social networking site one night after watching clips of DeGeneres on Youtube. The group attracted several hundred members within the first few days and three weeks later the group has 357 members.

“We were procrastinating, hanging out in Tarra’s room and watching Ellen videos on Youtube, and we had a sudden inspiration. It just clicked, it just made sense,” said senior Emma Giboney, who was one of the founders of the Facebook group. “Once the light bulb turned on, it just kind of snowballed.”

“It’s kind of like it was meant to be,” added La Valley

La Valley said Degeneres would be an “untraditional commencement speaker – she’s a combination of … successful but very laid back.”

“We didn’t want her just because she’s famous though,” added Giboney.

“We want her to speak because she’s a very powerful woman in today’s society,” she Giboney said, “and she has a lot of power in the gay community. She’s also a good role model. She’s gone through a lot, but she is who she is, even on television.”

Plans have been made for getting Ellen’s attention, namely a video showcasing Mills and the reasons she should come speak here – some funny and some serious. DeGeneres is known to show YouTube videos on her program, and a funny video would be the best way to get her attention, according to La Valley and Giboney. “We’ll trick her into paying attention, and then give her legitimate reasons to come to Mills,” said Giboney. Methods such as sending letters and tweets were also mentioned in order to get DeGeneres’ attention.

There are several ways that a commencement speaker is chosen. However, the main component is the senior class council, according to Waterhouse.

She said generally the senior class council comes up with a list of people who could be asked to speak, and then some are invited after the list is approved by President Holmgren and Vice President of Operations Jadushlever.

However, students are excited about taking the process into their own hands.

“We just did it, because we don’t really know how the process works, so we just went out and did it ourselves,” said Giboney. “If this happens, it’ll be better because of the student involvement.”

DeGeneres spoke at Tulane University’s 2009 commencement ceremony.