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The University selects two graduating students each year to serve as senior orators, a tradition unique to Brown among Ivy League institutions. Leor Shtull-Leber '12 and Tara Kane Prendergast '12.5 will represent their class at the May commencement ceremony.

Though Prendergast said she considers it an honor, speaking at commencement was not something she even considered until recently. Prendergast learned after being nominated that she was still eligible to give a speech, though she will not graduate until December.

The night before the preliminary submissions, Prendergast, a history concentrator, said she was "struck by a muse" and decided to apply. Her speech will be a "celebration of Brown and of the kinds of tools we received" at the University. In the speech, she will also ask students to think critically about the privilege they have been given and ways to use that position, she said. 

The themes of her speech are drawn from experiences in her own life, she said. Coming from a rural part of Colorado and a non-traditional academic background - Prendergast was homeschooled and attended a United World College  for part of high school - she said she feels a tension between the aspects of the University she is critical of and her gratitude for the experiences she has had on campus. Students do not fully apply the concepts they learn in the classroom, she said. In order to supplement her own experience, she worked closely with the Swearer Center for Public Service and the Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment program to give back to the community that supports the University, she said.

Her words to her senior cohorts will highlight the importance of commencement as "a moment for us to be really reflective" about the possible impact they can have on the world after completing the Brown experience, she said. 

After a whirlwind spring abroad her junior year, Prendergast took the fall off to return home and connect with her family, she said. While rejuvenating, she worked on an oral history project with her grandmother. Prendergast said she hopes to continue working in refugee support after she graduates.

Leor Shtull-Leber came up with "a metaphor for life" while hiking last summer and realized it would serve well in a graduation speech. "I had an idea and I wanted to share it with other people," said Shtull-Leber, a former design editor for The Herald. 

Though Shtull-Leber, who is concentrating in cognitive science, said she knows it will be difficult to make her message universal, she has tried to make it "as applicable to as many people as possible." Her theme centers around transformation in moments of self-doubt to become a confident individual, she said. "The process is totally symbolic of what I'm talking about," she said, adding that it is ironic that she is worried people will not like her speech when her message is about confidence.

Brown has made Shtull-Leber more aware of the norms that are part of everyday life, she said, adding that experiences on campus have taught her to be more inclusive. This sense of community was what attracted Shtull-Leber to Brown, she said. "There is a character to the school."

Shtull-Leber, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., has been heavily involved with the Brown/RISD Hillel and has interned at Hasbro, Inc., a toy and boardgame company headquartered in Pawtucket.

As a commencement speaker, Shtull-Leber is most excited to look out on the whole community attending the ceremony and smile at the people who have shaped her experiences as a student.

Student orators are selected through a process based on both student nominations and the quality of the speeches they planned to deliver, according to the Office of the Dean of the College website. Candidates are nominated by fellow students or faculty members and then send in short reviews of the themes of their potential speeches.

Semi-finalists presented a six-minute version of their speech to a committee of students, faculty members and deans, who then chose the final orators.


A previous version of this article stated that Leor Shtull-Leber '12 worked with the Hasbro Children's Hospital. In fact, she interned at Hasbro, Inc., a toy and boardgame company. The Herald regrets the error.



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