Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, known for her efforts to empower working women, will deliver the keynote address at UC Berkeley’s spring 2016 commencement ceremony, the campus announced Wednesday.
Before joining Facebook as its COO in 2008, Sandberg worked at Google for about seven years. She also sits on the boards of the Walt Disney Company and the nonprofit organization Women for Women International, among others.
Gender equality in work settings has been an important issue for Sandberg, who authored a 2013 book titled “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” focused on women’s stalled progress in either securing or maintaining leadership positions.
“I think she’s really inspiring in her role in Facebook and also what she’s done to help women advance in the workplace,” said Maya Goehrig-Harris, campus associate director for external relations. “She’s taken it to the next level to help make an impact in the world.”
The campus selected the commencement speaker after hundreds of graduating seniors picked up to three nominees in a poll formulated by the Senior Class Council. The Californians, a campus student group, then collaborated with the campus to invite a top-choice speaker in December.
According to Katherine Hsu, president of the Senior Class Council and former Daily Californian opinion columnist, a significant number of seniors polled expressed support for Sandberg. Although numerous respondents nominated Kanye West and Democratic politicians such as President Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, Hsu said, many also called for a successful woman who exhibited a good sense of humor.
“On all fronts, (Sandberg is) a pretty inspiring female speaker — I think that stands in contrast to some speakers that have come in the past,” Hsu said. “The fact that she is using her position to make positive change, I think, should be something that’s lauded.”
Sandberg served as Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management’s 2015 commencement speaker and spoke at the 2014 Class Day event at Harvard University, her alma mater.
She has previously experienced criticism for her proposed strategies to foster gender equality, specifically after writing “Lean In.” In her post on the Feminist Wire, prominent feminist bell hooks described Sandberg as “the face of faux feminism,” writing that Sandberg “comes across … as a lovable younger sister who just wants to play on the big brother’s team.”
Recent UC Berkeley commencement speakers have sparked contention on campus. Students notably decried the selection of comedian Bill Maher as the fall 2014 speaker, citing his polarizing commentary on Islam. When the campus selected Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff as the spring 2015 speaker, students had mixed reactions, some believing that his primarily tech background would alienate members of the graduating class.
While UC Berkeley spokesperson Roqua Montez acknowledged this previous controversy, he asserted the importance of diverse viewpoints on campus.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever have universal agreement on a commencement speaker,” Montez said. “I think it’s important to hear from all voices, whether we disagree with them or not.”
The general commencement ceremony will take place May 14.