136th Founder’s Day student speaker selected: Alexandra Stephanou to address Lehigh community

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The Founder’s Day student speaker committee, through a comprehensive interview process, has selected Alexandra Stephanou, ’15, to address the community at Lehigh’s annual celebration.

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Stephanou

Courtesy of Alexandra Stephanou, ’15

Lehigh’s Founder’s Day not only celebrates the university’s rich tradition and beloved founder, Asa Packer, but also the present Lehigh community who contribute to the success of the university.

“It’s really about welcoming everyone together at the start of the year to celebrate where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going from every population that relates to Lehigh,” said Celia Cameron, Assistant Vice President of Advancement Communications and Donor Relations. “That’s why the faculty are invited to be there, the donors are there who have given and then the students who are the lifeblood of Lehigh.”

The student speaker is a huge part of the Founder’s Day celebration. Each year a group of candidates is narrowed down through a series of interviews to choose a speaker who is a representation of the Lehigh student population.

“I’m a big fan of Lehigh traditions so Founder’s Day is just another one,” Stephanou said.  “I’ve gone to it every year since I have been at Lehigh, and I think it’s really neat that tradition has been going on so long and it really brings everyone at the ceremony back to Lehigh’s values and foundations…why Asa Packer made Lehigh and how we are carrying on his tradition. It sounds very cliché but when you look at what he wanted this school to be, we are doing it so many years later.”

Vice Provost for Student Affairs John Smeaton echoed Stephanou’s sentiments, speaking on the importance of student perspective and its representation in the celebration.

“Students are at the heart of our mission,” Smeaton said. “I want their voice heard when we gather as a community.”

The process to find the student speaker has been changed from previous years. In the past, the Office of Student Leadership Development would hold the student leadership kickoff dinner in August. At this dinner there would be a handful of student speakers, with the speaker for Founder’s Day being chosen from that group.

However, this year’s kickoff dinner had only one or two speakers. Unlike prior years, the student speaker search committee asked various groups from across the staff at Lehigh, including the Office of Student Leadership Development, Alumni Relations and Residence Life, to recommend candidates.

Of that group, the Events Department contacted seven or eight potential speakers to see if they were interested, with three students accepting the invitation to go through the interview process. The first round of interviews was with staff from Special Projects and Events departments. This round was about trying to uncover what Founder’s Day meant to the candidate and what they would bring to the table in terms of topic idea for the speech.

Smeaton and Cameron, as well as Associate Vice President in the department of Advancement, John Welty, spoke with the final two recommended speakers and narrowed their choices down to a finalist.

The collective recommendation was then passed on to the Office of the Provost, where the student speaker would be approved and extended an official invitation.

“We try to involve everyone in the selection process from student life through to the event side and the provost’s office to make it as inclusive as possible,” Cameron said.

The speaker is given flexibility to write their speech on a topic of their choice.

“The most challenging part of my role as speaker so far is coming up with a topic that is intriguing to all the people I’m talking to because it’s a really wide audience,” Stephanou said. “There will be administration, students, board of trustees, faculty and staff there so it is a large group of people to try to connect with.”

The Office of Advancement and Stephanou will meet twice before Founder’s Day to go over her draft and make sure she is confident with her presentation.

Stephanou said that she had two inspirations for the topic of her speech, which is currently undisclosed. First, she said, is the reason why Asa Packer decided to found Lehigh. Second, her work on the Presidential Search Committee this summer proved inspirational because it gave her a chance to see Lehigh in a new light. She said the experience allowed her to learn so much about Lehigh and saw how dedicated the board of trustees is to the school.

“Alex is a great young woman,” Smeaton said. “Like the many others who were considered she has a passion for Lehigh, has been actively engaged both in and outside the classroom and she is committed to find ways to make Lehigh even better.”

Stephanou’s engagement outside the classroom includes being involved in a Panhellenic sorority, spending four years on Student Senate and interning for the LU United Nations Partnership on campus. Also, she is a founder and executive board member of Dance Marathon.

Lehigh’s Founder’s Day will be held in Packer Memorial Church on Oct. 17 when Stephanou will address the ceremony’s attendees with her speech.

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