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Seniors Mixed on ‘Click and Clack’ Choice

By Erik Snowberg

Reactions among members of the Class of 1999 were varied last week as word of this year’s commencement speakers spread across campus.

While some students were vehemently opposed to the choice, others were happy to have Thomas L. Magliozzi ’58 and Raymond F. Magliozzi ’72 as speakers for Commencement 1999. The two brothers, popularly known as “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” are co-hosts of the National Public Radio show Car Talk.

Initial reaction negative

An initial surge of negative responses caused senior class president Pooja Shukla ’99 to send out an email to the entire senior class explaining the process for choosing commencement speakers. In her email, she said that seniors should continue to address their comments to her, and that she would pass them on to President Charles M. Vest.

“In the 72 hours following the announcement of President Vest’s decision I received 48 emails, of which two expressed satisfaction and the rest expressed varying degrees of disappointment,” Shukla said. She added, however, that the comments she received in person were “generally positive.”

In explaining their dissatisfaction, many seniors pointed to the high profile of past speakers compared to this year.

One senior noted, “in the past we have had the President, the Vice President, Nobel Prize winners, the Secretary General, and this year we get two guys who own a gas station.” Another senior explained, “The whole point of going to a good school is having someone impressive speak at graduation.”

Other seniors said that “Commencement will be a joke this year,” and they “felt embarrassed that these two guys [they’]ve never heard of are speaking at [their] graduation.”

Some seniors are pleased

Not all seniors reacted negatively to the announcement. Shukla said that after sending out the explanatory email she received over 70 “extremely positive” emails. She also said that she had even received positive feedback from some senior’s parents.

Jan M. Skotheim ’99 said, “They're great! I would rather listen to them than some corporate stiff who has nothing to say.” Other seniors stated they were “relieved,” “excited,” and think it is “a great change.”

Vest makes final selection

The selection process for commencement speakers begins in the Commencement Committee's Speaker Selection Subcommittee. This subcommittee, which has the senior class president and the Graduate Student Council president as two of its members, solicits the MIT community for suggestions.

As part of this campaign, Shukla sent an email asking for suggestions which generated “over 144 responses and over 40 different names.” The subcommittee then pooled suggested names and presented Vest with a condensed list. Vest makes the final decision regarding the commencement speaker. He is free to choose someone who is not on the subcommittee's list.

Vest's comments on the feedback he received were uniformly positive. “At what other school could the speaker one year be the President of the United States and the next year be Click and Clack?” he asked. He said that he hoped those who did not like the choice would “withhold their judgement until they actually hear what our speakers have to say.” Vest added, “We will have a great though unusual speech, but the focus will be on our graduates.”