By Grace Hatton, Editor-in-Chief
After four years at Warren Wilson, I will be graduating in May, and as I edged closer to the day I wear a cap and gown, I had to admit I was getting nervous about who would be delivering the commencement speech. After all, your college commencement speech is one of those moments in life that is never to be repeated, an event that marks an entire new chapter of a life and acts as an auditory validation of four years of hard work, late- night homework sessions, and general stress. A commencement speaker is supposed to entertain, inspire, and encourage, a tall order for anyone. This year, the man attempting to provide Wilson with a memorable and stirring speech is Peter Sagal, host of the popular NPR radio show, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! Sagal is also a prolific playwright and screenwriter, as well as an occasional actor. Sagal is perhaps one of the most high profile commencement speakers Wilson has ever hosted.
“Although WWC has had some well-known commencement speakers (including Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1986 and U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky in 1999),” says Director of Media Relations, Ben Anderson, “I’m sure that Peter Sagal is more widely known than most of them.”
Sagal has been to Asheville before, performing his show this summer at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. The show sold out in one day, proving his popularity in the larger Asheville community. Sagal is Twitter savvy too, so much so that when senior Caroline Duble reached out to Sagal via Twitter he was quick to respond. Duble had seen a notification on the inside page claiming that Sagal was confirmed as the commencement speaker, but when the announcement came down that same day, Duble thought it was a joke.
“The announcement went up and I was so excited that I literally cried. Then five minutes later, I tried to show the inside page article to another coworker, and it was gone,” says Duble. “I was so disappointed; it completely ruined my day. I thought that someone played a prank. So I tweeted Peter Sagal.”
Duble tweeted to Sagal asking if he’d be her commencement speaker. Sagal responded, “It depends: if you’re a senior at Warren Wilson College, then YES!”
Duble responded, tweeting, “I AM! Is it really true?! I’m crying in my living room.”
Sagal responded, “How serendipitous! See you in May!”
Duble never thought Sagal would respond to her tweet.“I didn’t actually believe he would respond, but he did, and my reaction was pretty hysterical,” says Duble. “I was sobbing… And I couldn’t breathe.”
Duble then posted this information to Facebook, where many of her fellow Wilsonites thought Duble had influenced the decision to bring Sagal to campus, especially when the official announcement of Sagal being the commencement speaker was re-posted on the inside page on the day after Duble and Sagal exchanged Tweets.
But the Tweets were mere confirmation of Sagal’s status as the commencement speaker. The commencement speaker is chosen each year by the President of the College, although there is not a specific process for determining the speaker.
“I have not put in place a formal process, though I did try to solicit opinions from faculty, staff, and students for the sort of speaker they’d like to have,” says President Solnick.
Like many students, President Solnick sees Sagal as an exciting choice for commencement speaker for multiple reasons. “He’s smart and funny – two features we like to see in good commencement speeches,” says Solnick “He’s someone well known to many of our students and their parents, as well as many faculty and staff. He’s multi-talented – he’s a writer, journalist, radio personality, playwright, and he’s created a PBS series on the US constitution featuring him riding across the country on a motorcycle. I felt the community would be excited to host him to give his first ever commencement speech, and judging by the reaction I’ve gotten since the announcement, I think that’s true.”
Time will only tell if Sagal’s commencement speech will be humorous, engaging, and inspiring, but what is clear is the fact that Peter Sagal has managed to stir up a frenzy of excited students, faculty, and staff like no other commencement speaker before.