Although some students may have hoped Paris Hilton, 2006’s most-Googled celebrity, would give this year’s commencement speech, the honor went to former President Bill Clinton.

Jessica Boullion
Graduating students watch as CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour delivers a commencement speech last spring. (ALEX DZIADOSZ/Daily)

As it turns out, University President Mary Sue Coleman and the Honorary Degree Committee pick speakers who have done something with their life that reflects the University’s values.

Apparently, Clinton’s achievements exceed Hilton’s, at least in the University’s estimation.

According to Lisa Jeffreys, who works in Coleman’s office, speakers are chosen based on significant stature rather than popularity. Administrators look for someone important rather than famous, she said. This ensures that commencement speeches are “meaningful, inspiring and even brilliant,” she said.

The 20-person Honorary Degree Committee looks for speakers who have advanced their discipline or field. The committee gives priority to minority or female candidates and also tries to honor individuals who have not yet been recognized with other awards.

The University inquires about the speaker’s availability before Coleman sends an official invitation, and if the speaker is not a University employee, they receive an Honorary degree from the University after speaking.

In previous years, speakers included CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, Automobile Magazine founder David Davis Jr. and head Xerox researcher John Seely Brown.

Students who would like to recommend a commencement speaker can send a letter with that person’s biography and the reason why that person deserves the honor of being chosen commencement speaker. The committee considers every nomination it receives.

Don’t get too excited, though – Coleman has the final say over who gets chosen.


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