Obama, Bono top list for commencement speaker

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February 20, 2007

3:08 PM

Finding an inspiring commencement speaker is an increasingly competitive process, one in which the College has historically tried to attract top names.

p. Popular figures such as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and U2’s Bono attract attention to schools at which they speak. While the name of the graduation speaker will not be released for a while, both Obama and Bono are on a short list of speakers being considered to give the annual commencement address, Senior Class President Jess Vance, the chair of the commencement speaker selection committee, said.

p. “They were both on the student list, which comes as no surprise given their popularity among students,” Vance said.

p. Vance would not reveal the other names on the list. She said that the committee does not yet know Bono’s or Obama’s decisions about speaking at graduation — or if they were even officially asked.

p. Vance said that the BOV only seriously considers a few names from the student committee’s list, and the student committee has no way of knowing who has been chosen since the BOV meets in closed session.

p. After the student committee comes up with names, Vance said that the list is given to Provost Geoffrey Feiss, who makes additions and changes to the list. A revised list of 15 potential speakers is given to the BOV, and they select the speaker from the list.

p. “The student committee ranks their list, but the BOV does not have to base their decision on the ranking system,” Vance said.
The competition for high-profile graduation speakers has become intense in recent years, The New York Times reported May 9, 2004. In order to attract top names, colleges are offering speakers a range of incentives, including five-figure appearance fees and use of private jets. Also important, the Times reported, are alumni connections.

p. Bono was the University of Pennsylvania’s speaker in 2004, and while he received no fee for speaking, the Times reported that a UPenn alumnus who knows the rock star convinced him to speak.
Obama is also a highly-requested figure. Since 2005, he has keynoted the commencement ceremonies at Knox College, Northwestern University and University of Massachusetts at Boston.

p. The College has a history of attracting important — and often politically conservative — commencement speakers. Past speakers have included conservative writer William F. Buckley in 1981, Elizabeth Dole in 1983, Colin Powell in 1988, James Baker, who was Secretary of State for George H.W. Bush, in 1992, conservative columnist George Will in 1994, Former President George H.W. Bush in 1995, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 1996, Former College Chancellor, British Prime Minister, and Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher in 1997, Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner in 1999 and Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2002.

p. Past graduation speakers who may carry a less conservative image are fewer — among them, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau in 1982, Democratic Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder in 1990, Madeleine Albright in 2001, Jon Stewart, ’84, in 2004 and Desmond Tutu last year.

p. Other notable past commencement speakers include Former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker in 1984, Glenn Close, ’74, in 1989 and Bill Cosby.

p. Vance said the commencement speaker will be announced right before spring break. Last year, the College announced that Tutu would be the speaker Feb. 24.

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