Colleges Vie for Big-Name Commencement Speakers

April 7, 2014

By Collin Binkley at The Columbus Dispatch

Some colleges don’t hire graduation speakers. Others reserve the podium for alumni. But for those who want a top name, this season can be a battle.

Schools pay premium fees to attract names that students and families will recognize. A speech might last only 20 minutes, but for winners of the top acts, experts say, a high-profile name can be a token of pride for years.

“They go for the biggest celebrity they can afford,” said Mike Frank, owner of Speakers Unlimited, a booking bureau based in Columbus. “They do it for prestige, to say we had some big name as our speaker.”

Ohio State University announced last month that MSNBC host Chris Matthews will deliver the spring graduation speech. He sits among the upper echelon of speakers, Frank said. But some students pooh-poohed the pick. His politics ruffled some students, while others just wanted a bigger name...

Cases: Nationwide: Colleges Across the Country Disinvite Commencement Speakers