Each class of Miami University graduates await final lectures for their classes. Miami graduates may also look forward to an influential speech at commencement.
Kenneth Merten, United States Ambassador to the Republic of Haiti and Miami alumnus was selected to speak at spring commencement May 8 at Yager Stadium.
“We can’t wait to hear his message,” Steve Snyder, executive assistant to the president and chair of the commencement speaker advisory committee, said.
Merten, as ambassador, is the U.S. liaison to the Haitian government, according to Donna Boen, editor of The Miamian alumni magazine, who spoke with Merten a month after the earthquake hit. Merten communicates with the Haitian government about rebuilding the country while overseeing the U.S. citizens in Haiti.
Snyder said to give Miami President David Hodge the credit for selecting Merten.
“The president called him in Haiti,” Snyder said. “It was very neat. He was very, very honored by the request, a real gentleman. (Merten is) very eager to do this.”
Merten graduated from Miami in 1983 with a degree in international relations.
On January 12, Merten struggled to stay afoot as he watched his residence in Haiti tremble with his wife, two daughters, and beagle puppy still inside when the earthquake hit, according to Boen. At that point Merten put together a committee response team that decided all of the children, embassy workers’ children and everyone else not vital to the mission would evacuate the island.
While his wife and daughters evacuated, Merten shared an cot with Sophie the beagle, seven or eight months old at the time.
Boen said Merten had about 50 percent of employees at the Embassy had their homes destroyed or couldn’t get back into them, but were still working 20 hours a day to evacuate U.S. citizens. Merten has helped evacuate over 15,000 people since the time of the earthquake.
“Talk about being in the middle of a tragic international disaster,” Snyder said. “We have a Miamian there helping people and helping a nation and a culture get through a horrible situation. He’s a great role model for graduating students.”
Snyder hopes Merten will stay the weekend in Oxford and that his wife and two daughters will accompany him May 8. Boen said Merten did not know when his family would join him again in Haiti.
Outdoor commencement in Yager Stadium began in 2002 when Charles Gibson was selected as the speaker. Since then, Andy Rooney, Jehan Sadat, William Safire, Peggy Noonan, Robin Roberts, and three U.S. representatives have spoken at commencement. Merten will be the ninth of the outdoor series.