The shiny new degrees are the main attraction, but it is the commencement speech that can make or break a college graduation ceremony. With colleges and universities across the country vying for top-notch speakers to take the podium each spring, it’s easy to see why graduation speakers are such a big deal.
A good commencement speech can stay in graduates’ minds for decades while a bad one can have them staring at their watches. Here are ten of the most popular commencement speakers for 2012.
Affectionately known as “Bill Nye the Science Guy” thanks to his Emmy-award winning Disney/PBS children’s science show of the same name, William S. Nye will deliver the keynote address for Harvey Mudd College’s 2012 commencement ceremony on May 13. Currently the host of three television shows, Nye is also vice president of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space-interest group. He has written five children’s books and strives to make science entertaining and accessible for “kids” of all ages.
Journalist and television personality Katie Couric is heading back to her alma mater this spring. A member of the University of Virginia’s class of 1979, Couric will deliver the 2012 commencement speech at the university on May 20. “I consider it a special honor to be invited by U.Va. to speak at Final Exercises," Couric said of the opportunity.
President Barack Obama will address the class of 2012 at Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts college that has been affiliated with Columbia University since 1900. Obama, the first Columbia graduate to serve as President of the United States, will address approximately 600 Barnard graduates on May 14.
Michelle Obama is one of two Virginia Tech commencement speakers. The First Lady will address graduates at Virginia Tech’s 2012 commencement ceremony on May 11 along with U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-VA. Mrs. Obama is also scheduled to make graduation speeches at North Carolina A&T University and Oregon State University.
News anchor and television personality Barbara Walters will speak at Yale’s 2012 Class Day. Well-known for interrogating pop culture icons ranging from actors to politicians, the veteran journalist has hosted ABC Evening News, ABC World News, Today, The View and 20/20.
Renowned broadcast journalist Ted Koppel is serving as the 2012 graduation speaker for the University of Massachusetts Amherst on May 11. Perhaps best known for his work on Nightline from 1980 through 2005, Koppell occasionally makes guest appearances on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and serves as a special correspondent on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
Comedic actor Steve Carell has had leading roles in NBC’s The Office as well as The 40-Year Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine. Recently lending his voice talents to the animated films Horton Hears a Who! and Despicable Me, Carrell will address Princeton University graduates at the 2012 Class Day ceremony on June 4.
Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp will offer words of wisdom to Dartmouth College’s 2012 graduates. Kopp has spent the past two decades running her non-profit organization, which enlists high-achieving college graduates to teach in low-income public schools across the country. She will receive also an honorary degree at Dartmouth on June 10.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will give the 2012 graduation speech at Southern Methodist University’s commencement ceremony on May 12. A respected scholar, academic administrator and public official, Dr. Rice served under President George H.W. Bush and is currently a professor at Stanford University.
Harvard Business School’s 2012 graduates will receive their keynote address from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. Since joining Facebook in 2008, Sandberg has helped transform the website into the world’s largest and most profitable social media network. She will speak at the HBS Class Day, traditionally held the day before commencement ceremonies, on May 23.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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