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Silicon Valley Innovation: Stanford Law Student Crowdsources Her Graduation Speech

Though higher education is constantly changing, commencement ceremonies have largely stayed the same. A graduating student at Stanford Law School is trying to change that.

Marta F. Belcher is crowdsourcing the speech she will give next month at the law school’s precommencement diploma ceremony, offering her classmates an opportunity to share in crafting that final message.

The point of a student commencement speaker, Ms. Belcher said, is to have someone who can speak to the student experience. But as she learned when she gave the student address at her undergraduate ceremony, it’s not easy for one person to represent hundreds, or even thousands, of classmates.

With all the online collaboration tools that are available today, Ms. Belcher saw the possibility of updating the tradition. So she competed to be the student speaker and invited classmates to contribute to her address.

“That was so clearly the right choice — for Stanford, especially, in the Silicon Valley at the cutting edge of innovation — that we should be the ones to sort of pioneer this new kind of way of writing a graduation speech,” she said.

After holding a number of meetings and fielding questions from skeptics, Ms. Belcher set up a wiki to gather ideas. The months-long effort was divided into three stages. First students would establish themes and ideas; next they would start contributing actual content for the speech; and finally, those pieces would be edited into a cohesive narrative during collaborative “edit-a-thons.”

Since the wiki went up, in February, 85 students have contributed to it.

“I think 99 percent of it is the process — that’s sort of what it’s about — is basically everyone being able to be included,” Ms. Belcher said.

Still, she’s looking forward to that final 1 percent, when she finally delivers the speech, on June 13.

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