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Nathan Myhrvold
Nathan Myhrvold

UCLA alumnus Nathan Myhrvold has just joined an elite group: graduation commencement speakers that have ignited controversy simply by being chosen to speak.

A strongly worded opinion column in today’s Daily Bruin student newspaper slams the choice of the Intellectual Ventures co-founder and former Microsoft technology chief and research scientist to speak at the UCLA College of Letters and Science graduation. The op-ed piece calls Intellectual Ventures “the world’s biggest ‘patent troll,'” and Myhrvold himself, “another in a long line of white, male commencement speakers who certainly knows how to run a profitable business, but doesn’t mind doing it at the expense of the industry that made him who he is.”

Writer Ara Sirinian, while acknowledging Myhrvold is an “extremely accomplished person” who would “certainly be able to deliver a good speech,” says Myhrvold’s choice is indicative of a greater problem for UCLA: Not enough student voice in the selection of commencement speakers.

Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures isn’t a stranger to criticism for its approach to acquiring, holding and licensing patents. But it might be the first time Myhrvold himself has been caught up in the commencement speaker selection buzzsaw, one that frequently threatens to slice and dice politicians, entertainers and business leaders for either being too controversial or, in the case of Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff at the University of California at Berkeley, too “safe.”

UCLA’s graduation ceremony, with Myhrvold’s speech, is set for June 12.

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