Teach for America CEO selected as commencement speaker


DePauw students have expressed mixed feelings about the 2013 commencement speaker, Elisa Villanueva Beard.
""I don't understand why she is qualified to be in a position to lead us through [commencement]," senior Berkley Frost said.
Beard, a 1998 graduate of DePauw, became Teach for America's co-chief executive officer earlier this year. Teach for America remains a controversial program in the eyes of many. The program takes recent college graduates who aren't necessarily education majors, gives them a five week training period and then places them graduates in urban schools.
To select a commencement speaker, President Brian Casey met with senior student body senators, the student government president and vice president. Casey said the alumni office was contacted and was responsible for generating 30 young alumni as potential commencement speakers.
"This group of [DePauw student government] senators and Sara [Scully] and Mark [Fadel] were adamant that they wanted an alum and they wanted someone young," Casey said.
Frost doesn't share the same enthusiasm that student government did for Beard. Frost said she thinks the university could have picked a speaker that was better known.
Not all students feel the speaker was a poor choice though. DePauw senior Casie Sambo will join Teach for America next year. She was assigned to teach secondary math in Milwaukee, Wis. Sambo feels optimistic about the potential message Beard can send to the student body not because of her involvement in Teach for America specifically, but because of her role leading a large non-profit organization.
"It's important [DePauw students] realize the opportunity they have been given,' Sambo said. "We have the responsibility to the next generation to ensure the same."
Casey believes having a young alumna in a high position in an organization focused on education is something for graduating seniors to look up to.
"I understand that people have different feelings about Teach for America's mission, but to have one of our alums running such a corporation really seems like a positive thing," Casey said.
Having alumni come back and speak at graduation displays the close ties students both former and current possess.
"I think it's cool that we get alumni coming back," senior Jack Quinn said. "I am certainly interested in what she has to say."
Sambo hopes the controversy surrounding Teach for America will lead to healthy conversation about the program, its flaws and ways to fix the state of American education.
"[The speaker] has potential to trigger discussion," Sambo said. "At least it will get people talking about the problems."
Kelsey Moore, a current Teach for America member and former DePauw student, acknowledges the benefits and pitfalls of the program. She does believe that having a strong female speaker at DePauw is important.
"It's great [DePauw] will have a strong female speaker who made her own way up," Moore said.
Sambo believes that if there were to be a real uproar about the speaker it would have happened already. She said at her sister's graduation the student body turned their backs on the commencement speaker because they all disagreed with the message. Sambo hasn't felt quite anything like a protest to Beard.
"[DePauw] students understand we don't have anything to stand up against," Sambo said. "I don't think anyone sees it as a setback, but maybe a wrong agenda."