Stanford law students pen school’s first-ever ‘wikispeech’ for graduation

Stanford Law School students working on the WikiSpeech during an “edit-a-thon.”
Stanford Law School students work on the wikispeech during an “edit-a-thon.”

Millennials have grown up in a world full of mass collaboration, surrounded by projects like Wikipedia that harness what’s been called the “wisdom of crowds.”

With that concept in mind, Stanford Law School’s Class of 2015 is using its collective voice to transform the school’s diploma ceremony set for Saturday, June 13.

“There is no reason that a graduation ceremony in 2015 should look the same as it did for the Class of 1915,” said MARTA BELCHER, JD ’15. “Being at Stanford and in the Silicon Valley, we are surrounded by a spirit of innovation that encourages us to ask, ‘Why do we do it this way, and how can we do it better?'”

Inspired to at least try to do it better, Belcher proposed a wikispeech on the class speaker ballot so that the speech wouldn’t just be one person’s, rather it would be everyone’s. Her idea: The speech would be a collaborative effort written by the entire class using an online wiki.

That symbolic step was realized when the wikispeech won the election for class speaker and students began the lengthy collaboration process of putting together the school’s first-ever class speech written on a wiki.

More than 85 students from the class have contributed to the speech via the wiki site, email and participation in several “edit-a-thons” of the speech, which will be delivered by Belcher, MICHAEL MESTITZ, JD ’15, and ASHLEE PINTO, JD ’15.

“We think that, by drawing on the wisdom of the crowd, we can come up with a speech that surpasses what any individual graduation speaker could write,” Belcher said.

The new concept intrigued CATHERINE GLAZE, associate dean for student affairs at the law school. “I appreciated its novelty and the effort to be as inclusive as possible of all the perspectives in the class. The class speech offers a window into the experience of the graduating class. By expanding the number of class members involved in writing and delivering the speech, the wikispeech turns a small window into a more panoramic view.”

Meanwhile, student reaction to the collaborative concept varied from intense skepticism to broad support.

“I was initially opposed, especially since I was in the runoff [election],” says LESLIE-BERNARD JOSEPH, JD ’15, who was one of the eight candidates running for graduation speaker against Belcher.

He added, “To be honest, I was swayed by Marta. I think her intentions and vision are incredibly pure. It was compelling to me – the chance to make sure everyone’s voice was heard. Many of us talk about doing things differently, making the world a more democratic place. I think the wikispeech is a symbolic step.”

And despite the high number of collaborators, the process has remained remarkably organized, said Belcher, adding, “We had decided in advance to write the wiki in stages rather than just having a blank page and a free-for-all.”

Read the full story on the Stanford Law School website.