Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

University announces Mitt Romney as commencement speaker

By AIMEE CHO | March 29, 2024

mitt-romney-by-gage-skidmore

GAGE SKIDMORE / CC BY-SA 3.0

Graduating students expressed mixed responses about the commencement speaker announcement. 

On Wednesday, March 27, the University announced that Mitt Romney, a U.S. Senator from Utah, will give the commencement speech for the Class of 2024 on May 23.

Romney was sworn in as a senator for Utah in 2019. Previously, he served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. Romney has run for the Republican presidential nomination twice and was selected as the presidential nominee in 2012. 

According to the Hub, Romney will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in the commencement ceremony. In the article, University President Ronald J. Daniels explained that Hopkins chose Romney as the speaker because of his commitment to improving the lives of Americans and maintaining moderate political ideologies.

"At a time when our politics are at serious risk of being undermined by extreme polarization, Senator Romney reminds us that the spirit of compromise and civic friendship—even among political rivals—remains a vital and relevant foundation of our democracy,” he said.

Students showed mixed responses to the announcement. In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Janhvi Parsai expressed disappointment about the choice.

“While I understand that, relative to his other Republican colleagues, Romney has been a more centrist politician, I think his views on certain issues still make him a poor choice for speaker,” she said.

Parsai particularly pointed out Romney’s beliefs against the constitutional protection for the right to abortion and legalization of same-sex marriage. Following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson in 2022 which held that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, Romney posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he supported the decision of the Court. 

During his presidential campaign in 2012, Romney made a public statement that he does not believe same-sex marriage should be allowed. However, he flipped his views in 2022 and voted to advance the Respect for Marriage Act

“It is one thing to have differing views on the free market, but when your views predicate on denying certain groups basic rights, they should not be tolerated,” she said.

Parsai stated that she does not feel that student input was factored into the decision. She voiced that the commencement committee should have chosen a speaker who reflects not only the values of the University but also the student body.

Senior Daniel Quezada shared similar sentiments in an interview with The News-Letter.

“Students at this university have consistently shown up to defend abortion rights, the civil rights protections of our LGBTQ+ friends and countless other causes that Senator Romney has opposed throughout his career,” he said. “Had we been consulted, I doubt Senator Romney would be on the stage.”

Quezada added that he believes that Romney does not fit the theme of commencement for reasons beyond his past actions as well.

“In my view, a commencement address is best given by someone at the leading edge of the politics of the future, not by someone whose politics are thoroughly consigned to the past,” he said.

Assistant Vice President for Media Relations and News J.B. Bird addressed some of these concerns raised by students in an email to The News-Letter.

“This is a great opportunity for students to hear from a national leader committed to the free and vigorous exchange of ideas around issues that many people feel passionately about,” he wrote.

He also explained that the process of choosing a commencement speaker is closely tied to the honorary degree selection and involves all community members. Each fall, students, faculty, alumni, staff and friends of the University are invited through the commencement website to confidentially submit nominations online. Then, a committee composed of President Daniels, trustees and University leadership reviews the nominations and makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees, which approves the final selection.

In an email to The News-Letter, Hopkins alum and former President of Hopkins Democrats Raymond Perez commented that he does not see Romney as having balanced political views and believes that he is firmly on the right wing.

“People forget that he was the progenitor of the anti-immigration stuff. In the 2012 [presidential] primary, he was attacked for being moderate compared to the religious right embodied by Rick Santorum. So he went hard on immigration. And then he flipped his position from pro-Roe to anti-Roe,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, Perez does not oppose the choice. He referenced how Romney was one of seven GOP senators who voted to convict former President Donald Trump for the January 2021 attack on the Capitol. 

“Even as a partisan Democrat, I'm not actually substantially against Senate Romney being chosen as a commencement speaker,” he wrote. “At the very most, I'll thank him for voting to impeach an obvious criminal who ordered his own supporters to storm the heart of the U.S. Thank you, Mitt.”


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