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MU taps Post writer to speak at graduation

News Editor

Published: Friday, February 1, 2013

Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 02:02

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Contributed by Miami University Communications

Washington Post journalist and Miami alumnus from 1976, Wil Haygood, will speak at commencement May 11.

Miami University announced Monday that the May 2013 commencement speaker will be journalist, author and Miami alumnus Wil Haygood. Haygood (Miami ’76) has worked as a journalist for the Washington Post since 2002, according to Carole Johnson, assistant director of university news and communication.

The 2013 Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee identified Haygood along with a handful of other potential speakers to be presented to University President David Hodge, according to Ted Pickerill, executive assistant to the president. Hodge then made a final decision and extended Haygood a personal invitation.

The selection committee looks for commencement speakers who are successful, well-respected, good speakers and inspiring to students, according to Pickerill. As is customary, the Miami alumnus will receive an honorary degree at the commencement ceremony in May.

Pickerill said Haygood’s recent success as well as his connection to the university made him a strong candidate.

“It’s really special when [the commencement speaker] can be an alumnus who’s successful, well-known, well-respected and inspiring,” Pickerill said. “What’s more inspiring to a Miami graduating student than to have a speaker who once sat there themselves?”

The advisory committee is comprised of 20 people, including faculty, staff and students: an undergraduate student from each division, one from a branch campus and a graduate student. Each member submits a list of names to be considered for the position, and then the committee as a whole votes to narrow the list to a few key suggestions.

Pickerill said the inclusion of student opinion is an important component to the selection process.

“Because commencement is an event for the graduates,” Pickerill said. “To celebrate their completion of Miami University.”

Senior Taylor Lewis was on the committee that selected Haygood. He will graduate in May and hear Haygood speak.

“I’m excited,” Lewis said. “We’re all at this place in our lives where we’re going off into the real world. Having someone there to inspire [the graduates] and encourage them to go forward with their Miami degree and do something great, so that 20 years down they road maybe they can come back and say ‘this is what Miami gave to me.’”

Lewis said Haygood’s achievements and connection with Miami were impressive attributes. He also cited Haygood’s inspirational personal story as a reason for his selection.

“He was raised in Columbus and came to Miami and obviously he is African American,” Lewis said. “Coming to Miami is not the most [welcoming] in terms of diversity.”

Lewis, an education major, said Haygood’s success and career is something that will resonate with all graduates, regardless of their program.

“I think journalism and media affects all of our lives, doesn’t matter if your in education, engineering, if you’re going to be a doctor or a businessman,” he said. “All of us read the news, all of us like reading good books. Just the fact that he’s a Miami alum and he knows what it takes, he’s walked the same brick paths as we have. I think that’s just one more thing that’s like ‘oh wow, I can totally be successful in this world.’”

Haygood is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and has earned awards and distinctions for feature writing and national and foreign reporting, including a National Headliner Award, Sunday Magazine Editors Award and National Association of Black Journalists award, according to Johnson.

For the Washington Post, Haygood covered Hurricane Katrina and reported on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Pickerill also pointed to Haygood’s recent newsworthy endeavors as another reason for his selection. Haygood’s 2008 front-page story about White House butler Eugene Allen is the inspiration for the film The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels due to be released next fall. The film stars Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr. Vanessa Redgrave and Robin Williams. Haygood is an associate producer of the movie.

Haygood is also currently writing a book about Thurgood Marshall, former Supreme Court Justice and Brown v. Board of Education lawyer.

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