BY SHRUTI RAM — EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
This year’s Commencement speaker will be J.D. Vance, bestselling author and Kentucky native.
J.D. Vance is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. He grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq.
A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and has recently signed on as a CNN Political Contributor. He currently lives in Ohio with his wife and two dogs.
Vance’s bestselling book, Hillbilly Elegy, deals profoundly with the history of his working-class family, and their struggles with the demands of middle-class life, and struggle to leave behind the substance abuse and poverty of white, rural working-class America.
Former Director of Communications of Centre College, Mike Norris, is especially looking forward to the Commencement Speech, as he is also from Eastern Kentucky, like Vance.
“There are two reasons to read Hillbilly Elegy,” Norris said, “One is for its analysis of an underclass that, in terms of economics, social outcomes, and mortality, has fared poorly in recent years. Vance portrays ‘his people’ with both eyes open, noting a number of ways in which they have been dealt a bad hand, while lamenting a pattern of destructive personal choices.”
“The second reason is for the exceptional characterization and the compelling storytelling,” Norris continued, “You keep saying, ‘Just one more chapter,’ and then suddenly, in the wee hours of the morning, the last page is turned.”
Members of Centre College’s senior staff are particularly excited about Vance’s announcement as Commencement speaker.
“What a treat it will be to have J.D. Vance as a major Centre speaker so soon after having novelist Crystal Wilkinson and two Kentucky Poet Laureates, Frank X. Walker and George Ella Lyon,” Dr. Milton Reigelman, Director of Global Citizenship and International Programs, shared, “Don’t start reading Hillbilly Elegy late one evening: even if you don’t agree with Vance’s analysis, you won’t be able to put the book down. His grandmother is one of those rare actual people so unforgettable that she could be in fiction.”
Vance’s book has garnered some criticism in addition to a great deal of praise, but is a powerful sociological analysis of rural, white America, combining personal experience with cultural criticism.
“The opportunity to have J.D. Vance as our 2017 Commencement Speaker was one not to be missed,” Dr. John Roush, President of the college, said, “Author of a best seller – twice topping the New York Times Best Seller list, J.D. is a Kentucky native who grew up the ‘hard way’ in Southwestern Ohio. His story, even among those who have been critical of it, is an example of what is still possible in our nation, and Centre’s story is filled up with ones not so different from Mr. Vance’s. The chance to have him among us in May will give each of us the opportunity to be informed, challenged, and inspired all at once.”
President Roush also shared that Vance was looking forward to being Centre’s Commencement speaker and happy to accept the invitation.
“He was eager to accept our invitation, inasmuch as he understands well the importance of Centre College as a beacon of intellectual accomplishment in the Commonwealth and the nation,” Roush said.
Past Centre College Commencement have included Posse founder, Deborah Bial, and former Kentucky State Governor, Steve Beshear. Centre has had a record of having top-notch Commencement speakers, despite the relatively small size of the college, and there is no doubt that J.D. Vance will provide an unforgettable address at Centre’s 194th Commencement.