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PayPal Co-Founder and Fast-Talking Dean Attract National Media


PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, left, gives the commencement address. Patrick Reynolds, right, presents an award at commencement.
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, left, gives the commencement address. Patrick Reynolds, right, presents an award at commencement.

With a well-known commencement speaker who holds controversial views, Hamilton may have anticipated a bit more national media attention to the event than in past years. What was not expected was additional focus on the dean of faculty.

Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel offered a thought-provoking address to the graduates that was either commented on, reprinted or reposted by many national media outlets including Fortune, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Business Insider, Inc., Entrepreneur and Fox News. Additional media references to Thiel and Hamilton’s commencement continue to appear. Social media related to Thiel’s remarks continues to be robust, and views on YouTube of his speech now exceed 13,000.

But it was Dean Patrick Reynolds and William R. Kenan Professor of Biology Emeritus Ernest Williams who also generated a surprising amount of media attention. Somewhat surreptitiously, Williams has, for the last 25 years, been timing deans as they announce the names of graduates at commencement. His methodology has been scientific, employing rigid and thorough sampling techniques. Reynolds, among the six deans who have served during the past 25 years, has been the clear winner. Although he did not break his record of 15+ names per minute this year, he still remains the record-holder at 13+ names per minute, higher than any other dean, since 1991 when Williams began this project.

Reynolds’ speed coupled with his dedication to pronunciation accuracy caught the attention of the national media. The dean had an engaging conversation with Public Radio International’s syndicated program Here & Now host Jeremy Hobson on Monday, May 24, and was featured on the same day by InsideHigherEd. Reynolds explained that he requests that each graduate provide an email with the phonetic rendition of his or her name, but that this method is not foolproof. He also relies on Name Coach, an app that allows students to record the pronunciation of their own name. As further insurance that he gets it right, he spends several hours practicing names with the registrar.

USA Today followed later in the week with another article in which a couple students, one from the Bronx and one from Kenya and both with challenging names, attested to the accuracy of his pronunciation.

Local news coverage was also strong with both Rome and Utica papers covering the event along with Utica’s NBC/CBS affiliate. 

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