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U.N. Secretarty Kofi Annan To Speak at Commencement

By Douglas E. Heimburger
and Ramy A. Arnaout
Staff Reporters

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan SM '72 has verbally confirmed that he will be the speaker at MIT's 131st Commencement ceremonies on June 5, said Kenneth D. Campbell, director of the MITNews Office.

Campbell and President Charles M. Vest emphasized that MITis currently awaiting receipt of a written confirmation of Annan's acceptance of the offer. As the secretary-general, Annan might be called away on business even after he has given written confirmation, they said.

Still, "it is a wonderful opportunity for graduates and their families to be addressed by the secretary-general,"President Charles M. Vest said. "I look forward to hearing his message, which will derive from his unique experience and position at a time when the world again looks to the United Nations for leadership and hope."

The 58-year-old Annan, a Ghanaian and the first black African to ascend to the world body's highest office, is a career United Nations diplomat and administrator, having held positions in the World Health Organization and as U.N. special envoy to NATO. He most recently served as undersecretary-general.

A Commencement Committee makes a list of names that are then considered by Vest in the selection of a speaker, said Class of 1997 President Pardis C. Sabeti '97.

Last year's speaker was Vice President Al Gore. Former Chairman and CEOof the Chrysler Corporation Lee Iacocca, former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin PhD '66, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl are among those who have delivered Commencement addresses since 1982.

From 1964 to 1982, the Commencement address traditionally was given by the president ofMIT.

Annan was elected to a four-year term as secretary-general in December following a protracted battle during which the UnitedStates vetoed the appointment of then-Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali because he had failed to make the necessary reforms to the often-beleaguered agency.

Since taking office, Annan has said reform is his top priority. Last week, he met with members of Congress in efforts to convince them to pay part of the United States's $1.3 billion dollar debt to the United Nations. He later agreed to work with Congressional leaders like Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) to streamline the United Nations in the coming years.

Annan was an undergraduate at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he majored in economics. He undertook graduate studies in international relations in Geneva in 1962.

From 1971 to 1972, he attended MIT, earning a master's degree as a Sloan Fellow at the Sloan School of Management.

Annan has been serving in the United Nations for his entire career, except when he headed the Ghana Tourist Development Company for two years from 1974 to 76.

Today, Annan serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of Macalester College and the Institute for the Future.

Annan gets mixed reaction

The selection of Annan as this year's Commencement speaker has brought praise.

"We are fortunate indeed" to have Annan as the Commencement speaker, said Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams. "He seems thoughtful and articulate."

"I'm delighted that a program like ours can train people to work in governmental positions"in addition to industry, Susan C. Lowance, program director of the Sloan Fellows Program said. The program is "very proud of him."

"I'm pretty excited about it. He's a very interesting man," said Sabeti, who served on the Commencement Committee."Certainly, he's a man of good position and a very prominent man and I think he'll be interesting to the parents and students."

"That's really impressive. It's an honor to have someone distinguished like that at MIT," said Undergraduate AssociationPresident Richard Y. Lee '97.

Several other members of the Class of 1997, however, said that they were unaware of Annan's position. Some had never heard of Annan before.

Most students, though, expressed excitement over the choice. "Having someone like this who is involved in an organization trying to bring communication to the world" will make the Commencement speech interesting, said Vincent Y. See '97.

Stacey E. Blau contributed to the reporting of this article.