Meet Your Senior Commencement speakers!

As you may know, Brown University proudly eschews the traditional hired Commencement speaker in favor of speeches from two members of the graduating class.

Over 80 members of the Class of 2014 anonymously sent fragments and ideas for a commencement speech to a ten-person committee, comprising Deans McSharry and Rodriguez, four seniors (chosen by those deans), and four faculty members (including Professor Barbara Tannenbaum of the famed Persuasive Communication course). The committee selected about 10 finalist proposals, whose writers were given recommendations and asked to flesh out and perform their entire speech. Based on those performances, the committee selected the two commencement speakers. Introducing…

Caroline Bologna ’14 and Joshua Block ’14!

This is what Caroline (left) and Josh (right) look like behind a lectern.

This is what Caroline (left) and Josh (right) look like behind a lectern.

If you don’t yet know these impressive seniors personally, you’ll become intimately acquainted with them on Commencement morning. To give you a preview, BlogDailyHerald sat down for coffee with Caroline and Josh. Here we go.

Joshua Block ‘14

Hometown: Sharon, MA
Concentration: Political Science, Philosophy
Freshman Unit: Archibald (Unit 2!)
Most likely to be found: “Probably in the Blue Room, or Faunce generally. Or on the Main Green on a nice day.”

Caroline Bologna ‘14

Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Concentration: Comparative Literature, French Studies
Freshman Unit: West Andrews (Best Andrews!)
Most likely to be found: “Similar [to Josh]. Or I guess also in that conference room in the BDH for Post- every Wednesday. Also Chipotle.”

BlogDH: So, do you two know each other?

Josh: Yup, we’re both tour guides!

BlogDH: What’s the biggest group of people you’ve ever spoken to?

Caroline: I spoke in my high school graduation, but that was a graduating class of fifty-eight girls and their families, so…

BlogDH: And are you recycling any of the speech?

Caroline: No!

Josh: I was the international president of a group called United Synagogue Youth, and at the outgoing convention where I gave the presidential address, there were 1,500 people there.

BlogDH: But this will be the biggest speech ever for both of you.

Josh & Caroline: Yeah.

Why do you think you deserve to represent the Class of 2014 at Commencement?

Caroline: I don’t really think of it as “we’re representing our class.” I think we’re just speaking to our own personal experiences, drawing from that, and hoping our message will resonate with everyone. I really don’t like the idea of “representing our class.”

Josh: I agree with that. I think any one of the 1,500 or so people [in the senior class] could give a great commencement speech, and it’s not about representing our class, it’s about selecting two people who are capable of giving a good speech.

What do you think about Brown’s choice of two senior graduation speakers, rather than most universities that hire a celebrity?

Josh: I think it’s nice to have somebody speak who can relate to the experiences of the people they are speaking to, and can speak directly about communal experiences of the past four years, and how to draw those experiences with us as we move forward, which a celebrity can’t speak to.

Caroline: Yeah, I’ve found from going to my older siblings’ college graduations that those celebrity speeches can be kind of boring, because they’re not really speaking about any experience relating to this particular graduating class. Well, my sister had Bono, so that was a little bit exciting…

BlogDH: Who would be your ideal celebrity speaker?

Caroline: Bono was really cool.

Josh [no hesitation]: I’m gonna go with Bill Clinton.

Without giving too much away, what can we expect from your speeches?

Caroline: I started with this theme of “labels,” and used that to relate to identity at Brown, the perception of labels, and whether or not they are legitimate, in general.

Josh: Mine’s about a theme that I think is particularly timely, it’s about the value of controversy, and the value of promoting a culture of healthy controversy.

BlogDH: Favorite campus-wide controversy of 2013-14?

Josh: I’m not sure I should answer that one…

Where does your speech fall on the cheesy vs. edgy spectrum?

Josh: The two things that I was told about writing a commencement speech were that it should be primarily about your own experience and academic in nature, and I did neither of those two things. Since it’s a speech about controversy, I think it’s maybe a little edgier than what’s typical of a commencement speech, but I think it has universal themes that people can still relate to.

Caroline: I think more specific ideas are really what make it less cheesy, because you’re not just relying on clichés. So many people I think rely on this idea that Commencement means “a beginning and not an end,” and it’s true, “to commence” means to start something, but I think that’s been used a lot.

Favorite moment from four years at Brown?

Josh: Probably the first tour that I gave, spring of freshman year. It was the first kind of nice Friday that year, there were 1,500 [Ed. Josh only measures things in increments of 1,500] people out on the Main Green, and it was a huge tour group. I brought them out, and everybody was juggling and studying and playing Frisbee and doing what we do on the Main Green in spring, and as soon as I brought the tour group up, everybody on the Main Green stood up and started applauding for this tour group, 1,500 people applauding for this random tour group on my first tour. And I remember thinking to myself that if you can’t fall in love with Brown in that moment, then you can’t fall in love with Brown.

Caroline: It’s funny, I was asked this same question in the Brown’s Finest Pageant, but I mean, to be honest, in a way, doing the Brown’s Finest Pageant was a great moment, because I got to do this wacky experience with a lot of my fellow seniors, most of whom I knew but not very well, and we just sort of shared different sides of ourselves with no inhibitions.

Any favorite speeches?

Josh: The speech that made me want to be a speechwriter was Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It was a situation where there was so much turmoil in the country and everyone was looking to this one speech to bring them together, and in an incredibly short speech he was able to speak so powerfully and so poetically, that it got across just the message that people needed to hear. Nothing less and nothing more.

BlogDH: That’s too bad, the Blog staff was hoping you would say Tina Fey’s inspirational speech from the gymnasium in Mean Girls.

Josh: Yeah, or Ruth Simmons’s speech from freshman orientation.

Worst-case Commencement speech nightmare scenario?

Caroline: A friend of mine who does improv was talking to me about being nervous in front of people, and she was like, “I was always thinking about ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen,’ and it would probably be saying some sort of racial slur, which you’re not gonna do.” So I think I’m gonna be okay. Otherwise, I’d say just tripping.

Josh: That’s what I was gonna say. I don’t wanna get up and fall off of the dais.

Plans for 2014-2015?

Josh: I work and will continue working as communications director for Brett Smiley, who’s running for Mayor of Providence.

Caroline: I’m going to New York. I’m currently interviewing for different editorial positions at media outlets, primarily on the arts and culture side.

That’s all for now. If you come across either of these cats between now and next month, wish them luck!

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