COMMENCEMENT | The University’s 249th Commencement will feature another high-profile speaker: United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Now in his second term, the Ghana native received the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize (along with the U.N. as a whole) for having been “pre-eminent in bringing new life” to the organization, and has been involved in a number of delicate political negotiations around the world. He will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.
According to Penn President Amy Gutmann, who on May 16 will preside over her first Commencement, Annan’s “commitment to international peace, human rights, and the universal values of equality, liberty, opportunity, and human dignity make him the perfect speaker to address Penn students as they begin their journey as citizens and leaders of an increasingly complex and interconnected global society.”
Annan has also been the subject of some recent controversy concerning the U.N.’s management of the oil-for-food program in Iraq, which was designed to allow Iraq to exchange a portion of its oil revenues for food and medicine. Critics, including some angered by Annan’s opposition to the U.S.-led invasion, have charged that it allowed former dictator Saddam Hussein to pocket the revenues and enabled some outsiders to profit from the transactions. An independent panel criticized Annan for not ordering an investigation into the conduct of his son, Kojo Annan, who worked for a Swiss company that had a contract to monitor the importation of goods into Iraq.
Reaction on campus to Annan’s selection has been mixed. In a supportive editorial, The Daily Pennsylvanian noted that the very fact that he holds “one of the most powerful and iconic positions in the world” makes him a “worthy selection to address Penn’s most recent graduates” and a “boon to a university that yearns each day to become more worldly.” But in an article headlined “Agitation grows over choice of speaker,” the paper noted that the choice was opposed by College Republicans angered by the U.N.’s frequent opposition to U.S. interests and perceived bias against Israel.
Also receiving honorary degrees on May 16 will be musician Quincy Jones, philosopher Saul Kripke, Comcast founder Ralph J. Roberts W’41, broadcast-journalist Judy Woodruff, and Nancy Fugate Woods, dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Washington. —S.H.