How Nancy Pelosi Was Chosen As Fisk University's Commencement Speaker

May 1, 2017

An influential — and at times divisive — political figure is speaking at Fisk University on Monday. Nancy Pelosi is giving the annual commencement address and also receiving an honorary doctorate. 

The former House speaker from California doesn't have much of a personal relationship with the historically black university in Tennessee, but Fisk decided to offer Pelosi an honorary degree after someone at the university nominated her. Vice president of academic affairs Rodney Hanley said the school chooses recipients based on two out of three criteria: contributions to the school, their field and society at large.  

When Fisk's president asked Pelosi's office if she would come to the university to accept, she agreed to give the speech as well. 

"It certainly has garnered a lot of student interest, and there's a certain kind of buzz on campus around her appearance," Hanley said.

Pelosi has a particularly partisan role, as the highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. But Hanley said the school's decision to recognize her was not based on politics, and they're not worried about alienating students or parents. People can disagree with her political views, he said, but still appreciate her prominence and impact. 

Hanley also pointed out the school has recognized influential politicians on both sides of the aisle: It's given honorary doctorates to Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis, as well as Republicans like Gov. Bill Haslam and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

This year, Fisk is also giving one to Mike Curb, who’s a music industry mogul and former lieutenant governor of California.

Meanwhile, other commencement speakers coming to Nashville this spring include radio host Tom Joyner at Tennessee State and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns at Vanderbilt.