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Warner to speak at final exercises

As far as he can remember, Alexander "Sandy" Gilliam Jr., secretary to the Board of Visitors, has seen every Virginia governor since 1966 deliver a commencement address at the University.

Following tradition, Gilliam will hear Virginia's current governor this May.

University President John T. Casteen III announced yesterday that Gov. Mark R. Warner, the 69th governor of the Commonwealth, will be the May 19 commencement speaker.

Gilliam, who also serves as chairman of the commencement and convocations committee that selects the commencement speaker, says it has been customary - at least for the last 35 years - for the University to invite the governor to speak during his four-year term.

"We always invite the governor to speak at the commencement and usually during his first year," Gilliam said.

Because the past nine governors have not deviated from this tradition, it did not surprise committee members when Casteen gave the nod to Warner.

"We considered new possibilities, but we knew it would likely be the governor. It was nothing brand new," said Louise Dudley, University spokeswoman and a member of the committee.

The public occasions subcommittee, which is a part of the commencement and convocations committee, consists of University students and faculty members. It meets twice a year to select a convocation speaker and commencement speaker.

Even with the knowledge that the incoming governor would be a likely selection, Edward Davis, professor of business administration and a committee member, said the committee still took the process seriously and formed a "hot list" of at least three or four dozen candidates to hand to Casteen.

Warner's Communications Director Paul Reagan said Warner was "very excited and very honored" to be chosen to speak at the University. Warner also will be delivering James Madison University's commencement address this May.

Though Warner did not attend the University, his wife Lisa Collis graduated from the College in 1977 with a degree in biology.

Gilliam and other faculty members on the committee expressed satisfaction with Casteen's choice, but the selection upset some student members.

"For me, it's unfortunate that he accepted," said Abby Fifer, Student Council president and a member of the committee. "Some of us aren't pleased with the way he's been handling the budget. It might have been nice to hear a new voice."

Still, other students are hesitant to pass judgment on the selection.

"It comes down to what he says. And if what he says is relevant to us students, then I'm all for it," fourth-year College student Chenda Bao said.