Erica Fee ‘99, Producer and Board President of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, will be the 2016 Commencement Speaker, the University announced Wednesday.
Commencement will take place on Sunday, May 15.
The University has been a sponsor of the Fringe Festival since 2008, and has co-sponsored 500 of the festival’s productions since its founding.
The response of the graduating class so far has been mixed. Senior Alex Barr expressed frustration over the University’s choice to select a speaker with ties to the University and who is mostly regionally well-known.
“Back home in Oregon, no one knows what Rochester is, and I think Rochester has the tendency to remain regional,” she said.
University Spokesperson Sara Miller said Commencement speakers are chosen by University President Joel Seligman in consultation with senior-class leaders, their advisor, and University deans.
“This process considers potential speakers—from all over the world—who have something to offer the graduating class and their families based on their life and/or professional experiences,” she said. “From among the candidates considered, a speaker who is both available and interested in delivering the Commencement keynote address is selected.”
While some students were underwhelmed by the University’s choice, others took it as a nod toward the humanities department.
“As an English major, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of natural science majors at this University,” senior Rachael Crowe said. “I’m curious to hear what she has to say. I think it will have a different focus from previous years, and I really appreciate that.”
Nigel Maister, the artistic director of the UR’s International Theatre Program who formerly taught Fee, spoke positively of her achievements, as well as the economic benefits of the Fringe Festival.
“Members of the Rochester community come to the Festival to enjoy themselves—they drink, they buy tee shirts, they learn about other artistic environments that they may not have been familiar with before,” Maister said. “It gives Rochester a focal communal sense of self as a place where exciting work can happen.”
After Fee graduated from UR in 1999, she studied the economic impact of festivals at the University of Minnesota, and oversaw the production of theatrical festivals in London and Edinburgh. When she returned to her hometown of Rochester, she functioned as a catalyst for the renowned success of the Fringe Festival.
Maister referenced Fee’s ingenuity and commitment to the arts as reasons why she would be a fitting speaker for Commencement.
“What I think Erica represents is someone who saw an opportunity, and through hard work, determination, and vision, managed to make good on that opportunity that benefited not only an immediate small circle of artists, but a community, and a city, and a region,” he said. “If every undergraduate managed to do that shortly after they graduate, I think that would truly be extraordinary.”