After a string of relatively low-profile commencement speakers drew complaints from many graduating seniors, this year’s choice, former President Bill Clinton, is eliciting a much different reaction.
Clinton will address an audience of about 40,000 in Michigan Stadium on April 28.
Having a speaker as famous as Clinton is a cause for excitement among many members of the class of 2007.
Students said the past several speakers have lacked name recognition.
“The University has focused on distinguished alumni in the past, but I think we’re a lot more excited with someone we see as a world figure,” LSA senior Allison Jacobs said.
Recent speakers include CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who spoke during last year’s ceremony, and former Xerox chief scientist John Seely Brown.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Michigan Daily in 2005 show that the University tried for a big name by inviting former Secretary of State Colin Powell, but Powell declined.
The fact that Clinton was a world leader as the class of 2007 was growing up is a bonus, Jacobs said.
“We watched him when we were in middle school and just learning about politics,” she said.
Gary Krenz, special counsel to University President Mary Sue Coleman, who heads the commencement speaker search process, said it took over a year to secure Clinton’s commitment.
“Throughout the year, people with (Coleman’s) office checked in on the invitation and reiterated our desire to have him speak,” said Lisa Jeffreys, a project specialist in Coleman’s office.
Krenz said those involved in the process worked with contacts close to Clinton to bolster the University’s chances of recruiting the former president.
Name recognition is not the only significant factor in the search for a commencement speaker, Krenz said. Candidates must meet the criteria for an honorary degree and have a reputation as being a good public speaker.
Clinton will likely be awarded an honorary doctorate of laws, pending approval by the University Board of Regents this month.
Rob Scott, chair of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said that although he is conservative, he looks forward to hearing Clinton speak.
Scott said it is an enormous honor to have a former president speak at his graduation ceremony, but he feels some resentment that the University may never have a conservative speaker of Clinton’s distinction.
“I’m disappointed that the University’s reputation seems to limit us to one side of the political spectrum for notable speakers,” he said.
Commencement ceremony attendance is likely to increase this year because of Clinton’s popularity. In previous years, graduating seniors said they were so disappointed with the speaker that they wouldn’t attend.
“I know some of my relatives now want to attend given that he’ll be there,” LSA senior Brittany Nuccitelli said.
Each graduate receives a set number of tickets to the ceremony for his or her guests. Jeffreys said non-graduating students will also be able to purchase tickets. More ticket information will be released in February.