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Commencement speakers chosen

Posted on 04.24.2013

PBS broadcaster Tavis Smiley and retired president of the United Way of Indiana Ellen Annala will address graduating students at the University of Indianapolis commencement ceremonies this year. Smiley will speak to the undergraduates, and Annala will speak to the graduates.

President Robert Manuel explained the importance of both of the speakers and their relevance to the graduating students.

“You want them [the speakers] to be able to put creative and thoughtful ideas out when they speak to the graduates. You want them to have a life experience that is worthy of addressing that group at that moment in time,” Manuel said.

Choosing the commencement speakers is a lengthy process.  A group of faculty puts forward names for consideration, which are then given to the faculty senate for consideration. The faculty senate  votes, which then goes to the board of trustees, which also votes on the candidates. Finally, the chosen candidates are asked to speak.

Annala will receive an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, and Smiley will receive an honorary Doctor of Literature degree during the commencements.

“In general, you want people who are getting honorary degrees to represent either an area that your university studies and has a prominence in—like, for us, communication and service,” Manuel said. “So, Ellen is a servant leader, and Tavis is a communication specialist.”

Smiley also is the author of 16 books and currently hosts the television talk show “Tavis Smiley” on PBS, as well as “The Tavis Smiley Show” and “Smiley & West” for Public Radio International. Growing up in northern Indiana, Smiley  has his own nonprofit for youth empowerment, which provides youth leadership training and development.

Annala recently retired from the United Way of Central Indiana after 23 years of service and 15 years as its first female president. She previously served as executive director of Big Sisters of Central Indiana and as deputy director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

Former University of Indianapolis President Beverley Pitts will attend the undergraduate commencement ceremony and receive an honorary Doctor of Literature degree, which will recognize her career at UIndy as a professor, administrator, writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Both ceremonies, instead of just the undergraduate ceremony, will be webcast this year, which is a first for UIndy. Director of Media Relations Scott Hall said that he is looking forward to this big step for the graduates.

“We’ve gotten wonderful feedback each year from parents and grandparents who were unable to attend but were able to watch the ceremony online,”  Hall said. “This year, we were able to negotiate a package with the video production company that made it affordable to webcast both ceremonies. So now the graduate students and their family and friends also can watch the ceremony live or watch the archived video later.”

The videos will be viewable at for up to 60 days after the ceremony.

Manuel said that this commencement, being his first at UIndy, is exciting.

“It’s such a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of the students and the faculty and how they’ve engaged with each other over the years,” Manuel said.

Manuel said he is looking forward to the reaction of the newly graduated alumni, after hearing the commencement speakers.

“It’s a moment for them to hear reflections from people who are engrossed in the fabric of our society, the way I hope our graduates will be,” Manuel said. “It’s just another perspective for them to consider during, maybe, the last moment before they walk out as alumni and figure out how to really engage in the world that they’re going to be a part of.”


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