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Kumail Nanjiani ’01 to speak at this year’s commencement

Kumali Nanjiani ’01 will be returning to Grinnell to speak at 2017’s commencement ceremony. Contributed photo.
Kumali Nanjiani ’01 will be returning to Grinnell to speak at 2017’s commencement ceremony. Contributed photo.

At this year’s graduation ceremony, stand-up comedian, actor, writer, podcast host and Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani ’01 will join the ranks of Zadie Smith and Judith Butler in addressing the class as a commencement speaker.

Most recently, Nanjiani has lent his voice to Prismo for the Emmy Award-winning animated series “Adventure Time.” He is also in the main cast for the Emmy Award-nominated series “Silicon Valley” where he plays Dinesh Chugtai, a programmer specializing in Java.

After getting his start in Bob’s Underground Café, Nanjiani graduated with a double major in computer science and philosophy. His last visit to Grinnell was in 2010, during which he performed stand up at Harris Center for students including Paul Hutchison’s “Taking Comedy Seriously” tutorial class.

Choosing a commencement speaker involves a committee, nominations and a list of potential people to invite. Jenelle Veit, Coordinator of Commencement and Conferences, forms a commencement committee every year including students from the graduating class. Last April, she formed the 2017 committee. They assisted with last year’s commencement and nominated speakers for this year.

Even though there are no general guidelines to the nomination, the students felt that speakers from past years have been often writers and therefore they decided to choose someone outside of the writing world. After they narrowed down the list to around 10 speakers, they sent it to administration executives, who can rearrange the order of the names and eliminate any they feel necessary. However, Veit states that usually there is no rearrangement of the list. In fact, this year the executives went forward with the top person on the list — Nanjiani.

After the first name is finalized, Veit contacts agents and they work together on the logistics. She admitted that the lengthiest part of the entire process is working out the dates and contract with the speaker. Luckily, this year, Grinnell got their first pick. Nanjiani agreed to come back to Grinnell and will be speaking on May 22.

Veit also mentioned that she is open to suggestions. So far, Nanjiani has nothing else planned for his visit to campus, but if anything else comes up she would be happy to speak to his agent.

“I am really excited. I have followed him on Twitter for a long time. He [was] a computer science major, politically active and funny on twitter — he is the perfect Grinnellian. I am glad we have someone who can do good for the world and talk on stage,” said Toby Baratta ’17.

Baratta mentioned that as the SGA Diversity & Outreach Coordinator, she is especially pleased that Grinnell has started inviting more diverse commencement speakers. Her hope, as a computer science major, is that Nanjiani will be open to drinks with the computer science department.

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