Behind the scenes of bringing spring speaker to Smith

Photo Courtesy Of | With A Night with Laverne Cox just around the corner, Tyra Wu ’19 interviews two SEC board members on the process of organizing the spring speaker event.


Tyra Wu ‘19
Associate Editor

After some uncertainty, A Night with Laverne Cox has been rescheduled for April 17 to many Smithies’ relief. In the past, notable figures like Viola Davis, Anderson Cooper and Piper Kerman ’92 have come to speak at Smith. However, many students don’t know that the Student Event Committee is largely responsible for bringing the spring speakers to Smith. SEC begins the lengthy planning process a year in advance, which involves choosing a candidate, organizing the logistics and making sure the event runs smoothly on the day of. In order to find out more about the planning process The Sophian sat down with Ali Meneghetti ’19 and Becca Damante ’17, board members of SEC.

Can you briefly tell me about what SEC is and what you do?

BD: SEC (Student Event Committee) is a student programming organization on campus that hosts over 40 events per semester. Since we run so many events, we do have an advisor in the Office of Student Engagement. Our events run the gamut – from biweekly films, spoken word, comedy and Jittery’s concerts to fun Thursday lunch crafts and special events like Trivia Night and Starlight Ball. We also try to host one small-scale lecture in the fall and one large-scale lecture in the spring. I am the Chair of the Student Event Committee, and acted as the Vice-Chair last year. As the Chair, I oversee our subcommittee heads: Films, Vocal Expressions, Jittery’s and Special Events, and oversee the operation of the organization. My Vice Chair, Catherine, is in charge of recruitment and leads our publicity team as well as secretary and treasurer. The two of us also take the lead on our lectures and large events.

AM: I am the special-events chair, so I am in charge of planning the Break from the Norm events we do once a month from start to finish, which involves brainstorming with our general board and executive board, pricing the event, ordering supplies and making sure it all goes smoothly. I am also in charge of any event we decide to do that is not Spoken Word or Jittery’s. This can mean anything from hypnotists to Oscar parties to trivia nights, which are all special events we have done in the past.

What is the process that SEC goes through to bring the spring speaker to Smith?

BD: SEC has brainstorming sessions with our organization a few times a year to start thinking about who we want to bring to campus. We also speak to students on campus during tabling and even just to our friends about who students want to see on campus. After we have chosen a short-list of candidates, we apply to the ORC for money and work with a speaking agency to contact the celebrity or notable figure of choice.

AM: We usually start planning the event a year in advance. During this time, we brainstorm about people that we want to bring and prepare a list of possible candidates by the fall semester. Next, we price check the list of people on the list and then contact them through a speaking agency.

What factors do you consider when you are choosing a speaker?

AM: We aim to find someone that is talking about relevant issues. We also want to find someone that people at Smith want to see and will be excited about.

What are some challenges to this process?

AM: One of the biggest challenges is finding someone who is big enough that they have a large following, but we can still afford to bring here. We always try to think about what people want and what we can afford.

BD: Some of the challenges involved are finding celebrities that have a wide appeal, but will be feasible in terms of our budget. I also know we have tried to explore large-scale concerts instead of lectures, since students have expressed interest in that, but we ultimately realized that it was way out of our budget.

On the day of the event what does SEC do?

AM: On the day of the event, members of SEC are at JMG all day helping to set up. Whenever we can duck out of class, we help out with soundcheck, lighting, seating and catering. It’s all us doing it. We have professionals, but then it’s up to us to as well. We turn into ushers closer to the event.

What do you wish students knew about SEC and the work that goes into organizing the spring speaker?

AM: I wish people knew how much work goes into it. There is so much behind-the-scenes work. We start working on it a year before just to figure out all the logistics. When Laverne Cox canceled earlier this year, it was super frustrating, because lots of people blamed us for it. We are doing the best that we can, but sometimes we can’t control everything.

BD: I wish students knew how much time we spend thinking about the spring speaker – it’s never a quick decision on our part – we always explore A LOT of options before deciding. I also hope students know that if they have suggestions for speakers, they can always email us at A lot of people students have suggested are way out of our budget, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to ask us.

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