Commencement ceremony speaker marks 19th amendment centennial

By Victoria Gill-Gomez

Opinion Editor

Washington College invited Dr. Sylvia Acevedo, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of America, to deliver the 2020 Commencement address on October 17.

Author, engineer, and advocate for girl empowerment, Dr. Acevedo “has earned worldwide recognition for her work in addressing one of society’s most vexing challenges – universal access to education,” as her personal website states. 

She is active on social media about STEM education, inspiring the ethnic communities to participate in Girl Scouts, and other topical issues such as environmental welfare.

President Kurt Landgraf said the committee who voted for her looked for a candidate with a meaningful message for both students and parents. 

Commencement speakers are also honorary degree recipients.

“Anyone within our community can nominate an individual to be invited to campus to receive an honorary degree and speak at commencement,” Director of Campus Events Gina Ralston said. “All nominations are considered and voted on by the awards committee of the Board of Visitors and Governors. Once a nominee is approved by this committee, they are eligible to be the commencement speaker.”

Dr. Acevedo was nominated by someone within the Chestertown community. Coincidentally, she will give her speech just after the centennial anniversary for the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

“Society is much better off with women in important positions in politics, business, and academics,” Landgraf said.

Overcoming a childhood of poverty in southern New Mexico, Dr. Acevedo earned her master’s degree in Systems Engineering from Stanford University and became the first Hispanic individual – male or female – to earn a graduate engineering degree from the institution. She is also one of the first Latina rocket scientists to work at NASA. There she began her career in the 1970s working with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where she analyzed data from probes and assisted the development of Voyager 2 programs. She later transitioned to be an engineer and executive at companies such as Apple, Dell, and IBM, as stated from her personal website. 

Dr. Acevedo will share a message of hope and inspiration for all young people. Girl Scouts was a transformative experience for her — not only did her troop leaders help her see her own potential and encourage her interest in science, they helped her mother learn English and prepare for the U.S. citizenship test. 

“Through Girl Scouts, I launched a rocket into the clear, blue New Mexico sky to earn my Science badge. Girl Scouts gave me the courage, the confidence, and the character to enter the engineering field at a time when girls did not do that, when people of my background did not do that,” Dr. Acevedo said. 

She became CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA in 2017. In her tenure, Dr. Acevedo introduced badges to the Girl Scouts in robotics, coding, engineering, and cybersecurity.

“Dr. Acevedo is a woman who has broken barriers in her education and career and who represents the realized hopes and dreams of the women who led the suffrage movement 100 years ago,” Ralston said.

In these changing times, Dr. Acevedo’s office has yet to confirm that she can attend commencement due to the postponed date. Currently, there is not a backup speaker, but if Dr. Acevedo is not able to attend commencement, another speaker will be asked to participate.  

The College made the decision to postpone the 237th Commencement ceremony in late March after it was decided that the rest of the academic year would be completed remotely. Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio gathered feedback from many people across campus, and the deciding factor was input from members of the graduating class. 

“Parent and student input were very against a virtual commencement,” Landgraf said. 

The College feels that commencement is a unique and special event for graduates and their families, and this should be celebrated in-person. 

With Dr. Acevedo as the keynote speaker, Ralston said she is sure the guest would “share a message of hope and inspiration for all young people.”

“Today’s students would do well to model her confidence and her persistence in fulfilling their goals,” she said.

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