COLLEGE PARK, Md. (March 7) – Washington Post Investigative reporter David Fahrenthold will be Merrill College’s commencement speaker this coming May. The ceremony is set for the Memorial Chapel on Saturday, May 20 at 3 p.m.

During the recent presidential campaign, Fahrenthold’s coverage included a year-long series of articles that became must-read as he tried to find out what non-profit organizations Donald Trump had contributed to. He described the experience – using a simple pad of paper to list each non-profit as he called them – in a Post article on Dec. 29 of last year. (He found that Trump has made very few charitable contributions over the years – and used his foundation to pay for personal things like a portrait of himself and even cub scout dues for his son.)

Merrill Student Committee Plan

A Merrill College committee of seniors graduating in May met last semester to talk about possible speakers.The committee included Ellie Silverman, Talia Richman, Michael Stern, Cameron Rogers, Carm Saimbre, Ciara Cione, Maggie Gottlieb and Erica Bonelli.

They came up with a Doodle Pole for the senior class to get their top choices and Fahrenthold rose to the top.

The students came up with a two-part plan:

  • Knight Chair Dana Priest – who is also a Post reporter – talked with Fahrenthold about being commencement speaker and he indicated he would be excited to speak. But there was more to do:
  • The students decided to use social media (primarily Twitter) to reach out to him during Leslie Walker’s JOUR480 (The Business of Journalism) class. As Talia Richman observed in an email, “When Fahrenthold was reporting on Donald Trump’s charitable giving, he kept his Twitter followers up-to-date on his findings and crowdsourced to get more information. This was an incredible way to use new technology to do basic follow-the-money reporting. We thought it would be cool to use this method as a way to ask him to be our grad speaker.” Hand-written requests on plain paper would be used as a way to get the messaging out during their Twitter campaign Monday evening, March 6.

After some 100 posts our students had a definitive answer!


The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold.