Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 13, 2020

Reddit co-founder to speak at virtual Commencement

By CHRIS PARK | May 5, 2020

alexis-ohanian

SEB DALY/WEB SUMMIT VIA SPORTSFILE / CC BY 2.0

Ohanian is an internet venture capitalist.

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder and executive chairman of Reddit, will speak at the virtual 2020 Commencement ceremony on May 21. 

Reddit is an American social news aggregation website founded in 2005 by Ohanian and Steve Huffman, Ohanian’s then-college roommate. It is one of the most visited websites in the world, with a majority of its user traffic coming from the United States.

In an email to The News-Letter, Media Relations Representative Chanapa Tantibanchachai explained why administrators chose Ohanian as the Commencement speaker.

“Each year, University Leadership strives to select a Commencement Speaker that will engage graduates from all nine academic divisions in a meaningful way,“ Tantibanchachai wrote. “Alexis Ohanian not only met these criteria when he was asked to speak, but he also adds a timely and relevant perspective that dovetails well with this year’s virtual ceremony.” 

Senior Class President Pavan Patel stated that he and the Student Government Association’s Senior Class Council were delighted by this decision. 

“We’ve got someone who is really energetic, and he’s done a lot of remarkable things in the entrepreneurship space,” Patel said. “He’s been a tremendous advocate for things like paid family leave. We are thrilled to have him.”

Ohanian is an investor who, through his venture capital fund Initialized Capital, made seed investments in various start-up companies, including Instacart and Coinbase.

Senior Varun Kedia, a Biomedical Engineering major, appreciates the opportunity to learn from a person with experience in the technology industry.

“A big part of engineering or any sort of technological venture is securing funding and making sure you get the right backing to successfully support what you want to do,” Kedia said. “Having someone who has seen so many pitches and taken the time to invest in ideas that either blossomed or crashed will impart a lot of wisdom on us as future engineers and people in STEM. That is really exciting.”

Kedia added that he is disappointed that the in-person Commencement ceremony is canceled. 

“There is a certain element of having that last goodbye, the final hurrah is kinda lost. Obviously, there is not a lot there can be done,” he said. “I guess I’m still hoping to interact with my fellow class of 2020 and still rekindle that magic that might have happened in person.”

Tantibanchachai noted that the University currently plans to hold two re-do, in-person Commencements for the class of 2020. The first will be held in December 2020 and the second in May 2021. As for the virtual Commencement this May, the University has worked to make it a meaningful event. 

“When you tune in to watch, you will see student memories and performances throughout the traditional academic ceremony,“ Tantibanchachai wrote. “There will be an alphabetical scroll of graduate’s names with their degree, major, and school alongside memories shared by the graduates.” 

Patel highlighted that while the virtual Commencement ceremony is not ideal, the Senior Class Council has aimed to ensure its success.

“It’s not the sort of format that we’ve envisioned, but we’ve done a lot of work with the Commencement Office, secretary of the Board of Trustees, Homewood Student Affairs,” he said. “We’ve also been working to engage the class of 2020. Given the circumstances, we’re very excited about how we’ve handled the situation.”

Tantibanchachai described the process for choosing a Commencement speaker. She stated that students, faculty and alumni can nominate potential speakers from August to October. University President Ronald J. Daniels then reviews the nominations along with a committee of administrators, faculty and trustees.

Senior Rojahne Azwoir expressed her excitement to have Ohanian as the Commencement speaker in an email to The News-Letter. 

“Through Reddit, I’ve discovered a lot of online support communities, especially for mental health that have taught me coping mechanisms and given me resources that have made my time at Hopkins a lot more manageable,“ she wrote. “He has a really good understanding of communities and how to allow them to grow, a perspective I think will be really important as we transition into this next part of our lives.” 

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