Students won’t have to look for Alaska anymore. Author John Green ’00 is returning to the Hill to deliver the 2016 Commencement address.
“I am excited and terrified in equal measure,” Green wrote in a statement to the College. “It’s a great honor to be invited to speak, given that it took me more than four years to graduate from Kenyon. This was not a future I imagined at my own commencement.”
He also tweeted that he was “excited/grateful/terrified” about being named speaker.
Green, who double-majored in English and religious studies at Kenyon, is known for his young adult novels such as The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. In 2011, he and his brother, Hank, launched Crash Course, a series of educational videos on YouTube. The two have an extensive YouTube following, where they’re known as the VlogBrothers and their followers as nerdfighters. In 2007, the brothers also created Project for Awesome, a fundraising and advocacy project that aims to “decrease the overall level of world suck.”
President Sean Decatur said Green was a great pick for commencement speaker.
“The excellent writing and literary career that John Green has had is very impressive,” Decatur said. “It’s almost equally as important as the work that he’s been doing along with his brother on education and advocacy. … I think that work in many ways actually stands on par with his writing achievements in terms of something worthy of honoring.”
Trevor Kirby ’16, head of the senior class committee, announced Green’s selection Saturday evening at the annual Senior Soirée. The news garnered mixed reactions.
Lauren Bittrich ’16, an English major with a creative writing concentration and a minor in religious studies, said she was “ecstatic” about the selection.
“The great thing with John Green being our commencement speaker is that this school has such a literary tradition, whether we want to acknowledge it or not,” Bittrich said. “I know a lot of people here who chose to come to Kenyon, or at least were drawn to Kenyon, knowing that John Green came here.”
Noah Williams ’16, an English major and studio art minor, was less enthusiastic.
“Initially I was a little disappointed,” Williams said. “I found myself hoping that we could get someone from outside of Kenyon, because I think the perspective that comes with that is important. … I think John Green is just another reinforcement that Kenyon is a writing school, and I don’t think we should reinforce that.”
Williams added that it was still “monumental” to have Green as a commencement speaker and emphasized the many other roles he plays besides that of a writer.
Traditionally, the commencement speaker is selected by the from a list of candidates nominated by members of the Kenyon community, narrowed down by the Honorary Degree Committee, and approved by the president. The committee is led by the chair of the faculty and consists of three faculty members, three students (generally two juniors and one sophomore) and liaisons from the Office of Development, the Office of the President and entities such as The Kenyon Review and the Center for the Study of American Democracy. Nominees must also receive approval from the College’s board of trustees, according to James Keller, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the faculty when Green was selected last year as speaker.
Keller, who is currently on sabbatical, wrote in an email to the Collegian that the committee’s deliberations and the list of names sent to the president are kept confidential. He said invitations are sometimes turned down, and other nominees who do not receive an invitation may be invited in the future.
Sarah Adrianowycz ’16, a member of the committee, said the body considered Green a good fit for commencement speaker because he was an alumnus of the College rather than simply a relative of a student. Green also attracts many prospective students and has “really embraced that link with the College,” Adrianowycz said.
P.F. Kluge ’64, Kenyon’s writer-in-residence and a Collegian advisor, said seeing his former student deliver the commencement speech will be a privilege.
“John Green has always remembered Kenyon gratefully, and Kenyon has even more reason to remember John Green in the same way,” Kluge wrote in an email from Malaysia. “I’ll be pleased to see him on stage at commencement and expect to feel a twinge of almost parental pride.”
The last Kenyon alum to speak at commencement was Aileen Hefferren ’88, chief executive of the education nonprofit Prep for Prep and a College trustee, in 2012.
The College’s 188th commencement ceremony is Saturday, May 21, 2016.