Dropout Rates On The Rise Among Commencement Speakers

May 23, 2014

By Jackie Rooney at The Florida Times Union

The college dropout rate is rising among commencement speakers. It’s a win-win. Inviting a political celebrity to talk at graduation often stirs debate and provides valuable publicity. When a famous speaker is disinvited or withdraws, the school saves huge speaker fees and gets a second round of publicity. It’s a growing trend. Research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that at least 145 commencement speakers have dropped out since 1987; 100 since 2009.

This year former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was signed up to address Rutgers University graduates. She withdrew after students and faculty protested her role in the Iraq war. Smith College students objected to gleaning graduation pearls of wisdom from Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. She too backed out. Other controversial graduation-circuit dropouts in recent years were Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, commentator Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton and Kathleen Sebelius.

Disinviting speakers seems to have become a higher education badge of honor. Imagine conversations among college presidents: “Whom did you disinvite this year? We saved $35,000 by nixing Condoleezza Rice and made all the papers.”

Another popular trend in commencement speakers is to invite talk show hosts and journalists, such as Katie Couric, Oprah Winfrey, Carl Bernstein, Tom Brokaw, Kermit the Frog, Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert. O’Brien’s commencement address, delivered outdoors to 2011 Dartmouth College grads, offered this practical advice: “An example that life is not fair is if it rains, the powerful rich people on this stage get the tent.”

This Rooney Bin journalist is waiting for an invitation to speak … anywhere. I charge $30,000 — it’s negotiable — to offer valuable tips, such as: “make your bed; pick up your clothes; take out the trash; plaids and stripes don’t mix; tuck in your shirt; wear clean underwear; don’t text and drive; and, if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a hundred times, stop teasing your sister!”

Cases: Nationwide: Colleges Across the Country Disinvite Commencement Speakers