Oscar-winning alum to address graduating class

By Lily O'Gara
On March 21, 2014

The University of New Hampshire class of 2014 has an exciting commencement ceremony to look forward to, as alumna and Academy Award winner Jennifer Lee will deliver the keynote address at the May 17 event. 

The '92 English graduate wrote and co-directed the popular animated film "Frozen," which received critical acclaim upon its Thanksgiving 2013 release. In March, the movie took home two Academy Awards after also having won a Golden Globe, a British Academy Film and Television Award (BAFTA) and five Annie Awards. Lee also co-wrote the 2012 hit "Wreck-It Ralph," which was nominated in 2013 for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

"We are honored to have award-winning screenwriter, director Jennifer Lee as this year's commencement speaker," Director of UNH Media Relations Erika Mantz said. "There has been a lot of buzz on campus about this distinguished alumna, and many students expressed interest in having her be this year's speaker."

The alumna is paving the way for both women and screenwriters. According to "UNH Today," she is the first female director to have a film surpass the $1 billion earning mark and also the first writer at a major animation studio to transition into directing. Mantz mentioned these accolades and said that Lee's story is "inspiring and impressive."

Lee's success story fits the commencement speaker criteria outlined on the university's website, which states, "Commencement speakers are chosen on the basis of their ability to inspire, motivate and provide enlightenment by sharing experiences that elicit curiosity, instill knowledge, educate and offer wisdom to students as they enter the next phase of their lives."

All students, faculty, staff and alumni are allowed to nominate speakers and award recipients until Oct. 31 each year. The Honorary Degrees and Granite State Awards Committee review nominations before submitting recommendations to the President's Office. According to Jody Record, editor of "The Campus Journal," nominations are confidential

The committee this year consists of 18 members, including Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lisa MacFarlane, Senior Executive Director of Advancement Relations Mary Horigan, Chief of Staff (President's Office) Megan Davis, Director of University Events and Programs Patrice Russell and Senior Events Assistant for University Events and Programs Lauren Conley.

A representative for each of the individual colleges also served on the committee, as did representatives for UNH Law, the UNH Foundation, the UNH Alumni Association, the Provost's Office, UNH Manchester, the Graduate Student Organization, the Class of 2014 and the Class of 2015.

Provost Lisa MacFarlane, who is also a professor in the English Department, was pleased with the choice.

"As professor of English, I'm thrilled with Ms. Lee's success, and delighted she's coming back to UNH," MacFarlane said. "I can't wait; it will be a great day, and a wonderful way to celebrate with the awesome Wildcat class of 2014."

The Honorary Degrees and Granite State Awards Committee Class of 2014 Representative Lizzy Barker echoed these sentiments. 

"As a graduating senior ... my personal opinion is that I am very excited about this selection. I personally think Jennifer Lee, her work and success, represents what is great about UNH and the culture of discovery and challenge that it fosters," Barker said. "I think she will offer great and personal advice for students heading out into the working world and I'm excited for the ceremony."


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