By Sam Colt
Some speculated it would be an Ohio senator. Others thought it might be a prominent donor. But when seniors gathered in Peirce’s Great Hall last Saturday for their eponymously named Soir?e, most were surprised by the Commencement Committee’s choice: author Bill Bryson.
Bryson, whose books on travel and science have garnered critical acclaim both stateside and in the United Kingdom, was selected by the Commencement Committee, a group composed of nine faculty members and three students. President of the Senior Class Committee Leland Holcomb ’14 had the honor of announcing Bryson’s selection to the rest of his class.
“I had known for many weeks and was sworn to secrecy ﾗ my committee didn’t even know,” he said. “[The Committee] decided on Thursday who would announce him and I said, ﾑOkay, well I’ll write up a few sentences.'”
Holcomb, who served on last year’s Commencement Committee, admitted that selecting a speaker could be a challenging job.
“We don’t have a budget for the Commencement speaker, so you need someone who’s intimately connected with the College,” he said. However, the precise nature of Bryson’s connection to Kenyon was unclear to Holcomb.
Most of these Kenyon connections are devised by faculty members on the Committee ﾗ with the exception of last year’s speaker, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“With Bloomberg, the connection came from a student,” Holcomb said. “He was far and away the biggest name.”
Though Bryson is perhaps not as big a name as the outgoing mayor, President Sean Decatur counts himself among those pleased by the Committee’s selection.
“I think it’s great,” Decatur said. “The decision ﾗ the process of which is still a little bit mysterious to me ﾗ was made before I came, but he actually got back to us right away.
“He knew about Kenyon and wrote an email message where he said he had just gotten off a train where he said he was reading an edition of the Kenyon Review.”
Seniors ﾗ many of whom are less familiar with Bryson ﾗ expressed excitement over his selection.
“I don’t know too much about him other than that he’s a humorous travel writer and that he lived in the UK for most of his adult life,” Kathryn Krinsman ’14, a member of the Senior Class Committee, said. “He seems like the type of writer whose written work would translate well into being read out loud in a Commencement address, so I feel like he’s a good choice.”
Bryson, who lived in the UK from 1977 until 1995, is eligible to apply for British citizenship, but told The Guardian in 2010 that he was afraid of failing the mandatory citizenship test.
Bryson has received numerous and varied accolades throughout his career in writing, including multiple honorary degrees.
In 2006, Des Moines, Iowa Mayor Frank Cownie gave Des Moines native Bryson a key to the city.
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