SMPA’s Tyriana Evans Named 2019 Commencement Student Speaker

The B.A. candidate in journalism and mass communication will speak about overcoming fear.

Tyriana Evans
Tyriana Evans, a graduating senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, was selected to be the 2019 Commencement student speaker. (William Atkins/GW Today)
April 01, 2019


A version of this article originally appeared on GW Today.

By Tatyana Hopkins

When Tyriana Evans arrived on the George Washington University campus in fall 2017, doubts swirled through her mind that she would successfully establish the journalism career she so longed for.

Homeschooled grades K-12 and having transferred from two other universities due to financial issues, Evans applied to GW in search of a rigorous and competitive communications program. But she worried that she would never get the grades or internships to make her competitive in the field.

“My extended family and friends weren’t sure if my siblings and I would be able to go off to college and just be normal because we were homeschooled,” she said. “So, it was always in the back of my mind.”

Now, Evans is an active member of the GW Association of Black Journalists and a mentee in the School of Media and Public Affairs Career Access Network program. In 2018, she also was awarded the Larry King Scholarship, which is given to rising seniors “with demonstrated financial need who have superior academic records.”

And on Friday, Evans, a graduating senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, was selected to be the 2019 Commencement student speaker. She will deliver her speech in front of nearly 25,000 George Washington University graduates and their families on May 19 on the National Mall.

Evans said she was “in shock” about her selection as the Commencement student speaker.

“It probably won’t settle in until Commencement when I’m on the stage,” she said.

The Commencement student speaker competition is a long-standing tradition at GW that began in 1992, where a graduating senior or graduate student is selected to deliver a speech and represent their class during the Commencement ceremony. This year, 62 students submitted their three-minute video entry and written copy of their speeches along with a biography to compete. Five finalists were selected by a panel of first-round judges.

Evans was selected by a second-round panel of judges that included Ty Miranda, B.A. ’14, a graduate student at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and an assistant program coordinator; Chris Bracey, vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of law; Jean Miller, assistant professor of communications and chair of the student speaker competition; and Steve Roberts, J.B. and M.C. Shapiro professor of media and public affairs.

The contestants were judged on five criteria: the content of their speech, their delivery, student appeal, general audience appeal and how memorable and moving their message was.

“My speech is about overcoming fear, especially during your time in college, and how Commencement is a celebration of overcoming any fear you may have had originally coming in,” she said. “Now, you’re going on to your next chapter, and you’re also going to face even more unknowns.”

She said students should be inspired by their accomplishments thus far and “use that inspiration to move forward.”

Sarah Baldassaro, associate vice president of external relations, also was a judge and announced the winner. She said all the student Commencement speaker finalists should be proud of themselves for making it so far in the competition and noted the significance of the competition.

“It really is a unique opportunity to deliver an address on the national mall,” Baldassaro said before announcing the winner. “It will be a wonderful day as we celebrate the accomplishments of the class.”

She also reminded the students the winner would deliver their speech alongside Savannah Guthrie, co-anchor of “Today” on NBC, who will deliver the main Commencement address and be awarded an honorary doctorate from the university.

By being selected among the five finalists, Evans will be awarded additional Commencement tickets, an invitation to the official Commencement dinner the evening before the ceremony, a commemorative Commencement photo and a photo with the main Commencement speaker.

Evans, who will pursue a master’s degree in pan-African studies after graduation, said her ultimate career aspiration is to host a talk show or to co-anchor morning news like Guthrie.

“All those years, I’ve been saying that and then when it was announced that she was the Commencement speaker, it was like a full circle moment,” she said. “I’m really excited to meet her.”