The university announced that Jon Meacham, a presidential historian, #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner will give the 2017 commencement address on Monday, May 15.
The commencement ceremony will take place on Hearn Plaza at 9 a.m.
Meacham has written numerous biographies of presidents and is currently working on a biography of James and Dolly Madison. His past works include biographies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and George H. W. Bush — all of which have won national recognition. His biography of George H.W. Bush became a #1 New York Times bestseller and in 2009 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his bestselling biography of Andrew Jackson.
In addition to his work as an author, Meacham is a contributing editor at TIME magazine, a contributing writer to the New York Times Book Review and a former executive editor at Random House. He also served as the editor of Newsweek from 2006 to 2010 and the former editor of the Washington Monthly. He serves as a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University and at The University of the South.
“Jon Meacham has the ability to analyze contemporary politics through the eyes of an historian,” said Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch in a Wake Forest News press release. “There is no better time for us to understand and appreciate how the past informs our future. We are honored he will deliver Wake Forest’s commencement address.”
Students have given mixed, yet positive responses to the announcement that Meacham will be giving their commencement address.
“Jon Meacham is an incredibly accomplished and talented speaker, one who will be able to situate these extremely instrumental four years in the rest of our lives and frame the lessons we’ve learned in a spirited and engaging manner,” said senior and Student Body President Jordan Monaghan. “A friend of mine has had him as a professor at Vanderbilt and has nothing but phenomenal things to say about his public speaking skills and ability to captivate an audience — I’m sincerely looking forward to May 15th.”
Senior Hannah Johnston, who will be graduating alongside Monaghan in May, expressed a similar excitement to hearing Meacham speak.
“I’m excited to hear Jon Meacham speak at commencement,” Johnston said. “He’s a phenomenal writer and I’m sure he will be a wonderful orator too.”
However, other seniors have expressed how they are looking forward to hearing him speak, but highlighted the lack of name recognition that Meacham carries.
“I did not know who he was at first,” Noémie Kloucek said, “but he seems to have an interesting career history and is a Pulitzer Prize winner, so I’m hopeful that he will give a good speech.”
Senior Morgan Yi echoed Klouceks concerns, saying, “I won’t lie, I didn’t know who Jon Meacham was at first. But I’m not mad about it.”
Other seniors have said that they have chosen to focus on the purpose and celebration of the event, rather than expressing excitement or frustration about the choice of speaker.
“They could put someone’s grandmother up there for all I care,” said senior Dwayne Peterkin. “I love this school and will miss it, but I just want my diploma.”
Meacham is from Chattanooga, Tennessee and earned an English Literature degree from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. In 2016, he delivered the fall undergraduate commencement address at the University of Georgia and has previously delivered addresses at other places such as Dickinson College, Monmouth College and Loyola University. Meacham is speaking at Maryville University in April as a part of their speaker series and is giving the commencement address at the University Mississippi on May 13.