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If she’s unsure, she does her best to “give it the voice it deserves,” she said. “Even if I get it wrong, I come close enough so they know I tried.” In practice, her speech deepens and slows. She averages 7 seconds per name, according to a colleague’s calculation.
During a rehearsal Thursday, the soon-to-be graduates wrote pronunciation tips on index cards. Some hints are more helpful than others: “Rye like the bread.”… “Mints like on your pillow.”… “Just like you’d expect.” Niemi will bind, notate and flip through them Saturday.
Niemi took the microphone at rehearsal to urge students with names that are frequently mispronounced to wave her down. “I try really hard to get this right,” she told the group gathered in the fieldhouse.
Samilee Moody, a physics and astronomy major, carefully penciled her pronunciation on the card: “Samm-ill-lee.” People often mangle her name, she said. “I’ve gotten So-MA-lee, Sam-a-LEE, Sam-ILL-ee. Just anything people can think of. It’s strange that it causes so much trouble.”
So she “really appreciates” Niemi’s efforts, she said. Niemi leaned in, looking at Moody’s card.
“SAM-ill-lee,” Moody said.
“SAM-ill-lee,” Niemi said in perfect imitation. “Got it.”
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168