Pulitzer Prize winning author Mitchell S. Jackson has accepted an invitation to speak at the Spring 2022 commencement. Jackson is native to Portland and currently resides in New York City.
Jackson was suggested as a potential candidate by Morgan S. Odell Professor of Humanities and Associate Professor of English Mary Szybist. According to Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier, it is important for Lewis & Clark to select a speaker who reflects the values of the community.
“We bestow on all commencement speakers an honorary doctorate, which is a big deal, so we want to invite someone who embodies the spirit of the liberal arts and our mission,” Suttmeier said via email.
Prior to this year, former Associate Dean of Student Academic Affairs John Krussel led the search for the speaker. Krussel previously worked with a small group of students and conducted research in order to find a few candidates. He would then make recommendations to Suttmeier. Krussel retired last summer, and the college has modified the process a bit.
“Early in the year, I discussed ideas for possible speakers with Vice President Holmes-Sullivan’s office and with the ASB president. They helped us think about criteria (a) a speaker who students and their families could get excited about at this particular historical moment; (b) a speaker whose values and ideas we thought would match such an important occasion,” Suttmeier said.
When Suttmeier circulated Jackson’s name among a group of students, faculty and staff, he received an “overwhelmingly positive” response. Jackson soon accepted Suttmeier’s formal invitation to speak on May 7.
According to Suttmeier, LC does not provide speakers with a topic or theme to center their speech around. It is up to the speaker to determine the direction of their speech. Suttmeier will hear Jackson’s speech for the first time on May 7, just like the rest of the LC community.
Jackson will be joined on stage by senior class representative Shalini Hanstad ’22, who is thrilled to share the stage with such an influential author. She believes it is particularly important for Jackson, who is Black, to speak given the school’s demographics.
“I’m very excited to share the stage with someone who is from Portland, and someone whose work I have read before at Lewis & Clark in my classes,” Hanstad said.
Jackson has won multiple literary awards and currently works at New York University as an English Professor. He has been described as an “enthralling” by The Guardian, among other publications.
Jackson was ultimately selected as the speaker due to “his incredible work as a writer, his inspiring story and his potential to give a great commencement address,” according to Suttmeier. The Dean also recommends that students try and find time to read his books, particularly “The Residue Years” and “Survival Math,” which Suttmeier describes as “jaw-droppingly great – gripping page-turners that practically invent a new language to relay these experiences.”