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The Scarlet & Black

Jamaica Kincaid to Speak at Commencement

In her novel The Autobiography of My Mother, Jamaica Kincaid wrote, “no matter how happy I had been in the past I do not long for it. The present is always the moment for which I love.”

Kincaid will address the class of 2012 at Grinnell College’s 166th Commencement ceremony.

Kincaid is a Caribbean novelist best known for her works At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, A Small Place, Lucy, Autobiography of My Mother and My Brother. In 2009, Kincaid was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and currently works as a professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. As the Commencement speaker, Kincaid will receive an honorary degree along with Patrick D. Irwin ’77, longtime member of the B-52s, and Carolyn Swartz Bucksbaum ’51, activist, philanthropist, and Grinnell trustee.

Kincaid was selected by a group of eighteen members of the class of 2012. Rachel Bly ’93, from the Conference Operations and Events office, assisted the students in the year-and-a-half long process.

“I think they were looking for someone who was a good speaker, for someone who would be relevant to the class in terms of who could speak about things that were interesting and relevant,” Bly said. “One of the things we talked about a lot was having someone who was international or who had a relationship internationally. We haven’t had too many commencement speakers who have been international or sort of represented the international students and although Jamaica Kincaid has been in the United States for a long time, she’s from the Caribbean, and that really played into finding someone who represented a slightly differ ent culture than some of the more recent speakers.”

Kincaid was selected to speak out of a list that included Ellen DeGeneres, Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros, among others. It was especially important to the 2012 Commencement committee that the speaker understand and address the class of 2012.

“We just don’t want a big name speaker who’s going to give ten of these and they are all going to sound the same,” Bly said. “We want somebody who’s going to get to know Grinnell a little bit and who is going to appreciate Grinnell for the quirky place that it is and be able to speak to that. I think that’s something that the committee, and especially this committee, was really really thoughtful about.”

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