Life Lessons and Inspiration from a Diverse Range of Memorable Commencement Speakers

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By Dawn Handschuh

Commencement speech
photo credit: 1yen via photopincc

Graduation season is upon us, and at many schools across the country, the process of choosing a commencement speaker is a daunting one for school administrators: should they select an individual-possibly someone who’s relatively unknown-who has changed the world in a meaningful way? Someone who can motivate and inspire graduates? Or should they go with a big name speaker who can be counted on to entertain and give a great speech?

While it can be difficult to find someone who is universally appealing, the speakers at graduation ceremonies seem to straddle both worlds and are often tapped from the worlds of Hollywood, the arts, sports and politics.

“…yours has become a generation possessed with that most American of ideas – that people who love their country can change it for the better.”

In remarks from President Barak Obama to the Class of 2013 at The Ohio State University.

Best Commencement Speeches

The very best commencement speeches have the power to resonate far beyond the school campus, and they can attract a lot of media attention. The very best speakers are in perennial demand in schools around the country. President Barack Obama, for example, has already spoken at the commencement of The Ohio State University and is slated to speak at the upcoming graduation ceremonies at Morehouse College and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis later in May.

Some schools land their top picks because of some personal connections, and in fact, many schools prefer to find a speaker who is an alumni or perhaps a parent of a graduating student. Michelle Obama, for example, agreed to speak at Oregon State University’s commencement last year because of the school’s commitment to public health research; but the fact that her older brother, Craig Robinson, is the school’s head men’s basketball coach there probably didn’t hurt either.

What’s happening in 2013?

Here are just a few of the more interesting speakers tapped as commencement speakers by colleges and universities across the nation:

  • Duke University: Melinda Gates, philanthropist and wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates
  • Elon University: Brian Williams, NBC News anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News”
  • Hartwick College: Deepak Chopra, the author and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine
  • Lasell College: Lucie Salhany, a media executive who became the first woman at the helm of a broadcasting network at Fox Broadcasting in 1993
  • Knox College: Actor and comedian Ed Helms, perhaps best known for his role as a paper salesman in the hit television show, The Office
  • Marymount College: Patt Morrison, a journalist, author and radio/television personality writer.
  • Saint Michael’s College: Mark Shields, the political analyst and commentator
  • Smith College: Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Internet news site
  • St. Norbert College: Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball
  • Union College: U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an important figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and an organizer of the historic March on Washington in 1963
  • University of Vermont: Wynton Marsalis, the jazz and classical musician and composer.
  • Wesleyan University: Joss Whedon, a Wesleyan graduate and the award-winning writer, director and producer behind the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the superhero blockbuster movie, The Avengers.

This year’s newly minted graduates have but a brief respite after finals and graduation and the launch of their careers. Enjoy the praise at your commencement ceremony-you earned it! And be sure to preserve the memory of this important milestone by choosing a premium diploma frame to showcase your achievements.

Who’d be your number one pick for commencement speaker at your school, and why?

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