Debutantes vs. Missionaries

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It’s the sort of gaffe familiar to graduates of Berkelee College of Music, Cornell College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the University of South Carolina: people often confuse their alma maters with other popularly recognized institutions of higher learning with similar names. Or, well, the exact same name.

On Saturday “Today Show” anchor Ann Curry gave the commencement speech at Wheaton College. Her speech began,

Thank you President Crutcher, faculty, graduates, parents, friends, supporters, trustees and alums.

What is making me less nervous about standing before all of you on this enormously significant day, is knowing that at this point in the proceedings, you have been sufficiently anesthetized.

I feel privileged to become an honorary Wheatie.

She then proceeded to discuss the contributions of several Wheaton alumni, including evangelist Billy Graham (‘43), movie director Wes Craven (’61), and even former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (’64).

Oddly, however, the school Curry addressed, in Norton, Mass., was a women’s college until 1988. Graham, Craven, and Hastert actually all graduated from the more prestigious evangelical Christian college of the same name in Wheaton, Ill.

Curry apologized to the college, writing that, “I am mortified by my mistake, and can only hope the purity of my motive, to find a way to connect with the graduates and to encourage them to a life of service, will allow you to forgive me.”

Apparently it was only her desire to “find a way to connect with the graduates and to encourage them to a life of service” that made her tell an intern to Google the name of the school and come up with a list of important people who went there. Or maybe she just farmed the whole thing out to some agency, which had one of their interns Google the school. For future reference, Christine Todd Whitman went to the Massachusetts Wheaton. So did Lesley Stahl.

One wonders how this happened. Even the Wikipedia entry for the school Curry addressed explains, right at the top, that “This article is about the college in Norton, Massachusetts. For the evangelical-affiliated school, see Wheaton College (Illinois).”[Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer