Spicer and Santiago chosen to be commencement speakers

Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer and Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago will be the commencement speakers at this year’s graduation ceremonies at the DCU Center, according to Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Linda Vaden-Goad.

Spicer will give the undergraduate commencement address, while Santiago will be giving the graduate commencement address.

Vaden-Goad informed the FSU community about the decision in a campus-wide email on Feb. 13.

In January, Spicer was sworn into office as Framingham’s first mayor. She is the first popularly elected African-American woman to serve as mayor in Massachusetts history.

In a statement, President F. Javier Cevallos said,  “Dr. Spicer’s historic election captivated our community and her commitment to public service and education are inspiring. I know our graduates will be excited to hear from her.”

Before becoming Framingham’s first mayor, Spicer served as a vice president at the Museum of Science in Boston.

Santiago was appointed commissioner by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in 2015. He is responsible for “providing overall direction to public higher education in Massachusetts and helping shape state-level policies that maximize the benefits of higher education to the Commonwealth and its citizens,” according to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education website.

Santiago has been featured twice in Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the United States – once in 1996 and again in 2011, according to the website.   

Cevallos said, “Commissioner Santiago’s advocacy on behalf of students, particularly those from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds, has been crucial in extending the promise of a college education to more people in Massachusetts. We are honored to have him speak to our graduate students.”

In an email to The Gatepost, Santiago said he was “delighted and honored” to be asked to speak at this year’s commencement.

“This is a time to celebrate the achievements of students and a time to acknowledge the support of family, faculty and staff that contributed to that success,” he said.

Spicer could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.

Earlier in the school year, graduating seniors voted for the speakers in a survey distributed by members of the Commencement Committee, which started planning the list of potential speakers early last fall.

The Commencement Committee is made up of SGA class officers and various faculty volunteers from a number of offices on campus, including the English department, the Alumni Association and SILD. Vaden-Goad serves as committee chair.

From the results of the survey, the committee discussed which candidates were the most popular and which reflected the committee’s chosen theme.

Director of Communications Dan Magazu, who is a member of the committee, said Spicer was chosen because she embodies the ideals of this year’s themes of diversity and inclusion.

“She was right at the top of our list,” he said.

Senior Class President Brian Leonard said the committee thought those themes “would be a good focus, especially after all the hate crimes that happened last semester. We wanted to find someone who can touch upon what happened and be a part of the healing process for our FSU community.”

Vaden-Goad said other options for the undergraduate speaker included talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Jon Favreau, who is a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama.

Options for the graduate speaker included Spicer and Congresswoman Katherine Clark, Vaden-Goad said.

According to Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, the University will be spending approximately $27,000 less on this year’s commencement compared to last year.

Last spring, the University spent approximately $204,000 to hold commencement at the Village Green in Framingham, Hamel said. This year, Hamel estimates the University will spend $177,000 to host it at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Hamel said given the DCU Center layout, the University is saving money by not needing to hire extensive security. The University also will not need to rent a tent, which he said took up a major portion of last year’s costs.

“Because of the way it’s laid out at the DCU Center – there’s like three ways in and out. It requires a lot less police officers,” he said.

Given the two speakers live close by, the University will also not need to fund their travel expenses, Hamel said. Commencement speakers are also not paid, and instead receive honorary degrees from the University.   

Cevallos announced the change in venue early last semester in a campus-wide email, citing the results of a 2016 commencement-location survey as the main reason for the change in location.

In the survey, students were given three options: keep commencement at the Village Green, move it to Bowditch Field or move it to the DCU Center in Worcester.

According to Cevallos, students overwhelmingly wanted to move commencement to the DCU Center. When it was held at the Village Green, graduating students could only invite a limited number of guests. At the DCU Center, they could bring as many as they would like, he said.

Cevallos said while he understands that it’s unfortunate that commencement will no longer be held near campus, the University had “to be realistic about what … would be the best venue for our students.”

Senior Andrew Carden said he wished graduation continued to be held close to campus.

“I personally would have liked it if they kept it on or close to campus because that’s most likely more convenient for everybody,” he said.

Senior Dana Lobad said she is excited about the change in venue and is looking forward to hearing Spicer speak.

“FSU’s first semester this year was marked by several racist incidents – which remain, to the best of my knowledge, inadequately addressed – and to be spoken to by her will be good for us as a way to normalize seeing a black woman in a position of leadership and impact.”

Senior Matt Banks said he was initially disappointed that commencement was moved, but since he hasn’t seen the DCU Center yet, he has yet to form a strong opinion. He does, however, hope more people will be able to attend given the arena’s size.

“I hope that, since it’s now at the DCU Center, it will be easily accessible to everyone.”

Vaden-Goad said, “For me, commencement is the most important celebration of our University. It’s a symbol to us all that we’ve come together to do something important.”