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Message from Chancellor Nancy Cantor regarding University commencement speaker

April 09, 2010

April 9, 2010

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

As we approach commencement, there have been concerns expressed over the choice of Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, as this year’s commencement speaker. In my experience, virtually every commencement speaker arouses a broad array of reactions, in line with the diversity of interests, opinions, and passions on a university campus, though I understand that in this economic climate the concerns may be especially acute. In fact, it is rare that a university is able to bring a speaker with a birds-eye view of, and extensive on-the-ground experience with, a major global challenge, and that was in the forefront of my mind as I made my selection this year. Every year, a committee of Student Marshals and Student Trustee Representatives provides me with a long list of potential speakers, recognizing that securing a commencement speaker is not an easy task, and they typically also give me a more selective top list. I am very pleased that this year’s speaker once again comes from that shorter top list.

Indeed, this year’s commencement speaker brings a unique perspective from the field of business — a discipline that has not been represented by a University commencement speaker in at least 20 years. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the selection, there is no question that Mr. Dimon is playing a key role, front and center in addressing one of, if not the major global challenge(s) of our day. Unquestionably, this is a special choice for those graduates with interests in business and finance, though interestingly the reach of a global financial services company extends across many different disciplines at Syracuse – including technologists, marketers, psychologists, designers – to name only a few who may find their way into the business and finance sector. Even more relevant, in my view, Mr. Dimon can speak with widely recognized authority to issues that inevitably will shape the landscape of opportunity and prosperity for all of our graduates, no matter their field or geographical location or perspective on the world.

Over the course of the past five years, Syracuse University has had commencement speakers representing almost every major academic strength of our institution and each one has gone beyond, engaging their personal experience and endeavors to place the challenges and opportunities facing our graduates in a broad landscape. We have welcomed a major political figure in Vice President Joe Biden; a prominent journalist and war correspondent in Bob Woodruff; a Pulitzer prize-winning author and k-12 educator in Frank McCourt; a Grammy-winning singer and composer in Billy Joel; and a world-renowned anthropologist and environmentalist in Jane Goodall. Their wisdom and the power of their voice derived in part from exceptional excellence at their chosen profession and in part from their willingness and ability to contextualize their experience in the pressing issues of our time, whether economic crisis, global conflict, urban education, or climate change. They were all stars with an inclusive reach into both the fears and the hopes of our next generation.

Jamie Dimon is just such a choice, lauded not only for his vast experience and accomplished leadership in a wide-ranging career in banking, and his active engagement of broad economic issues nationally and around the world, but also for his commitment to education and innovation. At Syracuse, we have seen the leadership he shows, as he endorsed the far-reaching collaboration in Global Enterprise Technology between SU and the technology leaders at JPMorgan Chase, which has been brought to life with our faculty and students in a new curriculum, research program, and technology center at Syracuse. Beyond our campus, millions of people all around the world recognize that Jamie Dimon is a leader whose voice is timely and seasoned, no matter whether one agrees or disagrees, reveres or rejects, his specific economic policies, corporate actions, or leadership approach. He, too, is a star with a broad reach.

Once again, I respect and value the array of reactions to this choice of speaker, even as I hope that we can come together and benefit from hearing from a world-renowned business leader located in the center of one of the world’s most influential companies, in an industry that simply has to be part of the solution, though not the only part, to a path toward economic stability for our nation and for all nations and peoples world-wide.


Nancy Cantor

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