No College graduation would be complete without a commencement speaker. But what makes a choice great? And who should do the choosing?
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Adrian College seniors and faculty are up in arms over the college's decision to invite 1950s and 1960s singer Pat Boone to receive an honorary degree and give the commencement address on Sunday. The immediate cause of their displeasure was comments by the one-time pop idol they considered racist, sexist, homophobic, and religiously intolerant. The best that can be said for the choice is that Adrian's Class of 2012 won't soon forget who spoke at their graduation.
Adrian students aren't the only ones who are disappointed in their commencement speaker. According to U.S. News and World Report, University of North Carolina students were put off by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters. So they set up an alternate ceremony and invited three speakers, including a member of the movement.
Fordham University students objected to the choice of John Brennan, an alumnus of the Jesuit university. They petitioned for a new speaker because they believe the former CIA administrator is associated with prisoner abuse and torture in the war on terror.
Some speakers are unforgettable. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu will address graduates of Gonzaga University in Washington state. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be at Colby College in Maine. And media giant Oprah Winfrey will share her thoughts with graduates of Atlanta's Spelman College.
Others are picked because they are successful alumni. Years from now, 2012 University of Kansas alums may be hard- pressed to remember the name of their speaker: KU alumnus and Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally.
And some are just fun. Jane Lynch from Glee will be at Smith College. Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson on The Simpsons, was invited to speak at Ohio University. Adam Savage of the TV show Mythbusters will be at Sarah Lawrence College.
The ultimate plums are the President and First Lady. Mr. Obama will speak at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and Barnard College in New York (as well as Joplin High School in Joplin, Mo.). Michelle Obama will give the commencement address at North Carolina A&T University, and also at Oregon State, where her brother coaches basketball.
Some universities solicit student and/or faculty recommendations. Others don't, but probably should. However they're chosen, the speakers should be entertaining, relevant, nonpolitical, and brief. That goes for Mr. Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who will address graduates at Liberty University in Virginia.
Mr. Boone was a bad choice, but not just because he has compared liberals to a cancer and called gay activists "sexual jihadists." The 77-year-old former star fails the entertainment and relevance tests.
Adrian officials would have known that if they had bothered to ask the young people whom Sunday's festivities are supposed to honor.
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