Following the announcement that Lulu Chow Wang ’66 would be the 2016 Commencement speaker, several rumors arose over the selection process. Most of these rumors and comments came over social media outlets such as Yik Yak, the anonymous posting app.
Lulu Chow Wang is the namesake for the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center, which was built in 2000. Chow Wang graduated from the College with a degree in English and is the founder and CEO of Tupelo Management. Chow Wang has kept close ties to the College, serving on the Wellesley College Board of Trustees for 18 years and stating that “the first, most important piece was the confidence [she] gained at Wellesley.” During the launch of the Wellesley Effect campaign, Chow Wang collaborated with a fellow Wellesley graduate to donate a $50 million gift, the largest ever given by women to their alma mater.
Members of the 2016 Class Council responded to Chow Wang’s nomination with excitement. Grace Park, 2016 Class Council Co-President, stated that she is “inspired by how much Lulu Wang has given back,” emphasizing that “as an Asian-American, [she’s] also pleased that Lulu, an alumna, will be the first Asian-American to deliver commencement remarks at Wellesley.”
In response to the confusion over the selection process, the Council illustrated a collaboration between students and administration, replying via interview that the Council “give[s] the administration a list of preferred speakers but ultimately they are the ones reaching out and confirming the speakers.”
The administration offered further clarification by outlining the selection process. Sofiya Cabalquinto, Director of Media Relations described the procedure as a robust collaboration between students and faculty.
“The Co-Class Presidents work with the senior class over the summer and poll their classmates to gauge interest on who the class is interested in seeing. In the fall, the Presidents then have a meeting with representatives from the Dean of Students, the Board of Trustees, and Communications & Public Affairs. They review the list together and work as a team to identify connections that they or the College might have to the speaker choices. Then, senior college administrators reach out through every connection and channel available,” Cabalquinto said.
Various comments on social media mused that perhaps Chow Wang’s numerous donations to the College was the impetus for her nomination, wondering if administration disregarded desires of the students during the selection procedure.
Mackenzie Hempe ’16 emphasized that some of her classmates don’t believe that Chow Wang’s name was on the list submitted by the council to the administration and that students’ opinions went unconsidered in lieu of honoring Chow Wang’s donations to the College. She finished by stressing that the opinions she heard voiced no negativity towards Chow Wang, whose achievements are admirable and plentiful. Rather, she took her peers to be troubled by the prospect of the College advertising a student-selection process and then failing to uphold its word.
Claire Verbeck ’16 expressed a similar sentiment, stating that she doesn’t think the committee that was formed to choose the speaker was given many options.
“I was not on the committee so I cannot say with certainty what happened. That said, I know Lulu Chow Wang donated quite a bit of money to the school recently and I wouldn’t be surprised if her donation had some influence in this commencement address,” Verbeck said.
Verbeck added, “Lulu Chow Wang, from my perspective, seems to cater to a very specific image of Wellesley and a very specific conception of success. I don’t think I fit into that image or that conception, nor do I particularly want to. Therefore I do feel alienated and disappointed by this decision, though it’s a rather insignificant decision at the end of the day.”
Calpalquinto responded to these concerns by stating that, “Lulu Chow Wang was on the list before the Wellesley Effect was launched Lulu was on the list before her most recent gift was made known.” She added that Chow Wang’s accomplishments have made her a frequent student request throughout the years.
“Lulu wanted to support connections and bonds between students, faculty and staff. She really wanted to give back to create that for the future generations of Wellesley women. Her name appears on the list from students because she is such an inspiring figure. “We’re really lucky that Lulu, who students are excited to meet and hear from in person, accepted our invitation,” Calpalquinto emphasized.