As you may know, Brown University proudly upholds the tradition of electing two members of the graduating class to address the crowd of eager graduates rather than hiring a Commencement speaker from outside of the Brown community.
Many members of the Class of 2015 anonymously sent excerpts and ideas for a commencement speech to a ten-person committee, comprised of 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…
Michelle Bailhe ’15 and Lucas Johnson ’15
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Concentration: Human Biology
Freshman Unit: Morris (Unit 19?) 4th floor
Most Likely to be Found: Morning: Scili basement, Afternoon: Carrels of the Rock, Night: Dance studio
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Freshman Unit: Champlin 3rd floor, (s/o to Champlin Cheetahs, Christian Petroske, the 3rd and 4th floors)
Most Likely to be Found: Lurking around the Blue Room attempting to get his friends who are on meal plan to buy him something. At night, in the SciLi basement photoshopping absurd self-referential photos with his friends in order to avoid doing work.
BlogDailyHerald: Did you two know each other before being selected as the commencement speakers?
Michelle: No, but we have a mutual friend. Several actually. My friend who dances with me is living with him next year, but somehow we never met.
Lucas: It’s very strange, the overlap was astounding in retrospect.
BlogDH: What motivated you to apply to be a speaker? Do either of you have public speaking experience?
Lucas: I didn’t expect to get nominated, I didn’t nominate myself, and I still don’t really know who nominated me. I just thought that it would be a very helpful exercise in reflecting over the past couple of years. And I thought, well, okay, someone felt that I had something important to say. So I took a lot of time processing that, and actually was very close to not submitting anything because trying to sum up four years in a couple of pages is really stressful. But I decided to give it a shot, and now I’m here.
Michelle: I remember the speeches that came out the year that we got into Brown, the 2011 speeches. I was still questioning my decision to come to Brown, and somewhat nervous about it. I remember Vivi Tran’s speech, “An Education in Altruism,” and that was the first time that I felt 100% that I had picked the perfect place and people for me. I wanted to be able to do something similar, and I think the fear of not being able to sum up four years in two pages definitely stopped me at first, but I realized it didn’t have to be that, and it could just be a “slice” of an experience that hopefully resonated with people. That became much easier to write.
BlogDH: Do either of you have public speaking experience?
Lucas: Back in high school, I spoke at a rally for the Transit Workers Union when I was part of this campaign for keeping student Metro Cards free for NYC public school students. That was in front of around 1200 people. Besides that, I also have taught in a bunch of different settings; obviously that is not the same as speaking in front of a crowd, but I do have a lot of experience speaking in front of small groups of very judgmental teenagers. It’s thickened my skin in a way that other public speaking experiences haven’t.
Michelle: I spoke sophomore year at a rally for marriage equality that I organized with a bunch of other campus groups, and that was in front of about 200 people. When I directed Impulse, the directors have to speak in front of the crowd, so that was probably 400 people. But this is by far the most. But my small yet mighty class of TAPS022 (Persuasive Communication) has been great this semester. I feel good after that, I’m excited.
Lucas: Yeah I’ve loved working with Barbara Tannenbaum. She’s the homie, she’s great. She’s just so good at what she does, it’s very inspiring.
BlogDH: What do you think about Brown’s choice to have two senior graduation speakers rather than a “big-name” commencement speaker?
Lucas: I think that it’s very appropriately “Brown.” It’s awesome because obviously neither Michelle nor I can speak to the experiences of every single Brown student here, we can only provide our “slice” of the Brown experience. But I think that it’s more appropriate for an event where we’re all going out into this great unknown to have two students reflecting with other students rather than having an “arbitrarily successful” person, or rather a specific successful person that the University has made an active decision in cosigning to give that speech. I think that hopefully it’ll resonate more with our class as a class. It will be a more relatable, tangible experience for a lot of people.
Michelle: I like it. I think in addition to being very classically Brown, it shows celebration of the students rather than someone who might not necessarily have gone to Brown. I feel more connected to it, and even if someone else had been picked, I would have felt much closer to it rather than to some randomly selected successful person.
Lucas: It frames success in a way that has us looking forward rather than aspiring to some definition of success that Brown is giving us.
Michelle: I think it makes it more reflective, too. If you have a celebrity, you are looking forward to what that person has achieved, how you get there in life, what advice they have for you. But when you have someone who’s just taking about what the last four years have been, it’s actually a day to say what could this mean, what has stuck with you, rather than having this benchmark.
BlogDH: Without giving too much away, what can we expect from your speeches?
Lucas: The title of my speech is “School Spirit,” to which I get mixed reactions when I tell people. School spirit is not something that I think a lot of Brown students would associate with the Brown student body. But essentially it follows my journey beginning as a starry-eyed, excessively enthusiastic first-year: the type of first-year that bought a Brown hoodie during ADOCH, got super psyched about everything, and was friend requesting all of the people in the 2015 Facebook group. It looks at how I’ve changed and how my perspective about Brown has changed and what school spirit looks like as a Brown student who has a lot of critical things to say about Brown and who is trying to now integrate new students into the Brown community.
Michelle: Okay I could answer it seriously or I could answer it SNL’s Stefon-style. My speech will include: dancing Impulse members, bouncy castles, Oprah, free cars, T-shirt cannons…that’s all of it! I have nothing left.
BlogDH: What’s your worst-case-scenario Commencement-speech nightmare?
Lucas: That I’ll panic and begin doing a dramatic reading of “School Spirit” by Kanye West which couldn’t be more different than what my speech is about. But it is my dad’s favorite Kanye West song so at least he’d be rooting for me.
Michelle: Getting up there and them telling me that I didn’t actually get picked. I think that would be the worst.
BlogDH: What’s your favorite or most memorable moment from your time at Brown? Or something you’re most proud of?
Michelle: There could be a billion, luckily. But the first thing that comes to mind is dancing with Impulse. I have a lot of memories being on stage with them and knowing a group of people so well that I otherwise might not have – we have people from South Africa, China, and North Dakota, and all over – and dancing with them and goofing off with them has been one of the greatest experiences in terms of just fun and memories. And it’s also so cool to present something that you’ve worked so hard on to a huge group of really excited people. Those screams, I’ll never forget. The most nerve wracking and exciting experience for sure.
Lucas: I’m struggling to think of a particular memory, but I feel like this semester has been very beautiful in the small, chill moments that I’ve had with some of my really close friends here. I think that one thing that I’ve shifted from doing between my first year here and now is instead of savoring these big moments that are supposed to be the big moments on campus, like Spring Weekend, really savoring the little moments with friends. Like some goofy moment at a party, or just spending quality time doing nothing in particular with my friends. Also, just getting to see all of my friends presenting their theses and capstones has been a really awe-inspiring experience for me this semester. I feel like it’s really settling in that I’ve met some really awesome people here and those little moments have been what I think I’m really going to carry with me after graduating.
BlogDH: Plans for 2014-2015?
Michelle: I’m moving to New York, working for McKinsey.
Lucas: I’m going to be staying here. A month after giving this speech I will be back in Providence teaching at Brown Summer High School for the Brown Fifth Year MAT program. I’m very excited about that. I feel like it will be a good celebratory lap here at Brown, also I feel like the MAT program is exceptional, I’m really excited to work with the Education program even more than I already have. After that, I’m going to be certified as a high school English teacher, and I’m going to figure out where to go from there. I’m thinking about going somewhere outside of the Northeast to teach English, so that should be another exciting frontier.
BlogDH: One last thing you’d like the student body to know about you before you get up on the dais?
Lucas: My mix tape, “The Dark Pope of Park Slope” will be dropping sometime this fall, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Michelle: I sincerely apologize that I am not Beyoncé.