Benjamin Reno-Weber will highlight this year’s Commencement as the student speaker on the Ellipse. An experienced speaker, the Elliott School senior said he is not intimidated by the 20,000 people expected to attend the May 19th ceremony.
University Marshal Jill Kasle said she selected Reno-Weber as the speaker after a brief audition because of his speech and speaking ability.
“I could just tell he was the one as soon as he got up to speak,” Kasle said.
After each college selects a graduation speaker through a speech competition, Kasle evaluates the eight winners for speaking ability and content of their message.
“I look at how accomplished they are,” she said. “Speaking on the Ellipse is tricky . it takes a lot of poise and polish.”
Reno-Weber said he wrote an outline for his speech while he was waiting to audition.
A four-year Rugby player and Model United Nations participant from Louisville, Ky., he said he has lots of experience speaking to sizeable crowds. He said he spoke at his high school graduation and as a member of the International Affairs Society.
He said speaking on Sunday will be “a lot easier” than his position as captain of the Rugby team.
“None of the people will boo or beat me up afterward,” he said.
Kasle said most of the students who are selected to speak at their individual school graduations have extensive speaking experience. She said the unique problem of speaking on the Ellipse is a “two-second echo” that occurs when the words coming from microphones bounce off the government buildings surrounding the park.
“The acoustics are such that the speaker actually hears his or her own voice come back to them a few seconds after they speak,” Kasle said. “Students with stage fright or little experience get thrown easily.”
Kasle also said she evaluates students’ ability to engage a large audience and requires their proposed speech to be “representative of the graduating class’s ideals.”
Reno-Weber said he wants the speech to be a surprise but said he hopes his speech “will be funny and make people think.”
“You get so caught up in the day to day living in D.C., I just want to make people sit back and think about why we’ve done the things we’ve done,” he said.
He said he is comfortable with improvised speaking from an outline, but the University is requiring him to write a transcript of the speech.
“They are scared that I might take the opportunity to do something crazy,” he said, but he promised, “don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything.”
–Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report