Judy Smith (left) and Anna Deavere Smith (right) were announced as Kean’s new commencement Photo: Kean University speakers on April 24, 2015.
By Sade Cox
Kean University announced this year’s commencement speakers on April 23, three weeks after pulling hip-hop artist Common amid outcry from New Jersey State Police.
Playwright, actress and professor Anna Deavere Smith, who starred in series like West Wing and Nurse Jackie, will deliver the undergraduate commencement address. Judy Smith, the inspiration for the television series “Scandal” whose crisis management firm advised people like Monica Lewinsky and Michael Vick, will be the graduate commencement speaker.
Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, was swiftly removed as Kean’s commencement speaker after New Jersey State Police raised concerns over a song the rapper wrote supporting Joanne Chesimard, a convicted cop killer.
Anna Smith is a professor at New York University and is best known for crafting one-woman, multi-character plays about American social issues, the university said in a statement.
Judy Smith helped coordinate the United Nations Foundation and World Health Organization’s response to the SARS epidemic, the university said in a statement.
“Kean University is honored to welcome Anna Deavere Smith and Judy Smith for our 2015 commencement ceremonies,” said Kean University President Dr. Dawood Farahi in a statement on April 23. “It would be difficult to find two more skilled practitioners of their respective crafts and our students will benefit greatly from their wealth of expertise and insight.”
But not everyone is happy with the choice. Students voiced their frustrations with not having Common as the commencement speaker. Christine Christian, a graduating senior majoring in biology had hopes in Common returning as the commencement speaker.
“I am extremely disappointed with Kean University’s commencement speaker choice for the May 2015 graduation ceremony,” Christian said in an e-mail. “I’m sure Anna Deavere Smith is a great speaker; however, I’m still very upset that Common was cancelled. He was let go of because of a song he made 15 years ago, which I think is absolutely ridiculous.”
Even with the students’ effort to have a petition on Change.org to gather supporters to get Common back as the speaker, the university decided to pursue other options.
Anna Smith will deliver the undergraduate commencement address on May 21 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Judy Smith will speak at a separate ceremony on May 19 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ.
The university is expected to award close to 3,000 degrees at the ceremony, the university said in a statement.