May 13th, 2013
10:36 AM ET

2013's big-name college commencement speakers

(CNN) - Every year, college commencement speakers offer up guidance, life lessons and a few zingers to new graduates from schools large and small. Here are some high-profile commencement speakers that grads will hear from this spring.

Who was your graduation speaker? Do you remember what he or she said? Share your memories in the comments, tweet us @CNNschools or find us on Facebook!

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Filed under: College • Graduation
soundoff (120 Responses)
  1. Cindy

    Gorbachev at Emory University in 1992.

    May 22, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  2. Julia O.

    Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, gave a rare and memorable commencement speech at Kenyon College in 1990. As a fellow alumn he captured the feelings departing Kenyon beautifully.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  3. KAC

    Margaret Thatcher at the College of William and Mary in 2003

    May 22, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  4. jeff

    Doesn't matter who you get to speak.... there's still no jobs out there.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:08 am |
  5. Ben

    How about Bill Nye "the Science Guy", who spoke at Lehigh University on 5/20/13?

    May 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Mary

      Go Bill Nye! He was great at Lehigh. I was there!

      May 23, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  6. Independent

    The President's speech this past weekend at Morehouse was powerful and inspirational, but we should expect no less from our President as he is a class act all the way.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  7. CT

    Is the article incomplete? It says "Here are some high-profile commencement speakers grads will hear from this spring": ... and there's no list.

    May 21, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Hi CT, there should be a gallery atop the intro with photos and descriptions of the speakers atop the text. What platform are you viewing this on?

      May 21, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  8. SMB

    My commencement speaker was Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Her message was simple, yet powerful. She encouraged us to take of the "poor" and emphasized that the "poor" are everywhere. The "poor" are poor in spirit as well as money. They are the lonely, forsaken, ignored, different. They are in our own homes, families and communities.
    I will never forget that message

    May 20, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • houstonchica77057

      What an absolute privilege.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:31 am |
    • Victoria Tayor

      I guess we must be classmates...

      May 21, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  9. Michael Ruzicho

    Having a big time name for college commencement speaker gives you the perfect farewell memory.

    May 19, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Sherri

    Honorary degrees mean nothing. They are a formality that schools give to celebrities. They do not mean that you attended even one class, and you definitely did not graduate. I would be insulted to have someone come speak to me, who has an honorary degree, if I had: attended classes, completed all coursework, completed graduation requirements and then someone like that came to speak at commencement. Maybe they are a way for colleges to get celebrities to start giving them money or something, but they mean nothing.

    May 17, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  11. Anne

    President George W. Bush – Oklahoma State University 2006

    May 14, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  12. Mike

    The Dalai Lama is speaking at Tulane's commencement...

    May 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  13. Keith

    Where is AZ Governor Jan Brewer giving a commencement address?

    May 14, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  14. kierstenmurphy

    Noam Chomsky, political activist, spoke at Gettysburg College for commencement in 1992.
    Tim Russert spoke at my grad sch commencement in 1999.

    Worked at a HS where Jane Fonda gave their commencement address.

    May 14, 2013 at 3:45 am |
  15. BRod

    Billie Jean King at Williams College this year

    May 14, 2013 at 2:45 am |
  16. spoot

    You won't even mention your own business anchor speaking at ISU ;)?

    May 14, 2013 at 12:47 am |
    • Bob Simmons

      My graduation from Stanford was made even more special when Captain Kangaroo spoke to us. It was a life changing speech and far more academic than anything I ever heard in class.

      May 14, 2013 at 1:34 am |
  17. Jjar

    CNN, the Dalai Lama is speaking at Tulane University's graduation this Saturday and some blogger that no one cares about makes your list? How about we update this little oversight.

    May 14, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • sami

      It is number 10 on this list

      May 20, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  18. Susie

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oberlin College 1987

    May 13, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
  19. Dan

    Sunyalbany1972 Kurt vonnagart

    May 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
  20. Janette

    Madeleine Albright was at my undergrad at Northeastern University in 2000 and again in 2007 for my graduate studies graduation at UNC Chapel Hill.

    May 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • Tea Party Tori

      Adam West as Batman spoke to the Princeton class of 2007. His utility belt was totally awesome!

      May 14, 2013 at 1:52 am |
  21. Johanna

    Erma Bombeck spoke at my graduation back in 1983. By far one of the best speakers ever. She was brutally honest and funny as hell.

    May 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • Dee Snyder

      Those of us who graduated from Harvard in spring, 2010, were duly impressed by the vast knowledge and inspriration from some dude dressed up in a Donald Duck costume. It was hard to understand what he was saying.

      May 14, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  22. Rich Sternberg

    I take you all the way back to 1965, when I became a graduate of Michigan State University, and our commencement speaker was Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren, who spoke about a commitment to thoughtful courage, and was very inspiring.

    May 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Thanks for sharing, Rich! Condoleezza Rice spoke at my graduation from Michigan State University in 2004.

      May 13, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  23. gojohn

    Bill Cosby is also speaking at Marquette University. But it is on Saturday May 18, 2013.

    May 13, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  24. Phattee

    TOM BROKAW! It was pretty awesome.

    May 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  25. Jeff

    President Reagan spoke at Notre Dame in 1981. His first public appearance outside of D.C. after the assassination attempt.

    May 13, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  26. GaSouthernEagle

    Dr. Michio Kaku spoke at Georgia Southern University 's graduate commencement on May 10th, 2013. GREAT speaker!!

    May 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  27. JulieNC

    It was a long time ago, but Charles Kuralt spoke at my graduation from UNC-Chapel Hill. The prior year, James Earl Jones spoke there.

    May 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
  28. Scott

    Soledad O'Brien just spoke (very well) at Agnes Scott College this weekend! Give one of your own some credit for being famous!

    May 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  29. DarwinM

    Johnny Knoxville at Edison state college

    May 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  30. the_dude

    Obama will be saying words at the school to celebrate glorious leader friendly school re-education camp. Should be a real hoot.

    May 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • barnetmx

      Obama was at The Ohio State University which is known for some big name speakers at commencement. I had the famous astronaut, John Glenn, and later the PM of Israel Yitzak Rabin. John Boehner was last year.

      May 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
      • Sarah Giannamore

        John Boehner was in 2011. I was there for that graduation.

        May 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  31. MU

    Hank Aaron was the speaker for Marquette University in 2012. Exciting stuff for the baseball fans in the crowd.

    May 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  32. Sarah

    Steve Wozniak also spoke at High Point University on May 4th!

    May 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  33. Andrew

    Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the University of Pennsylvania commencement today (5/13). Much bigger name than half of the people on the list at the moment.

    May 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • barnetmx

      FYI: Obama was at The Ohio State University. :))

      May 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  34. John

    CNN you should probably add in the fact that the Dalai Lama is giving Tulane University's commencement address.

    May 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  35. ariggs8

    Frank Abagnale (the Catch Me If You Can guy) spoke at Southern Illinois University Carbondale on May 11th. Fascinating man!

    May 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  36. mickinmd

    My graduation speaker at UMBC in 1973 was the great psychologist B. F. Skinner. He received loud applause from the audience right at the beginning when he announced, "This will not be a long speech." He made some references to his famous pigeon studies and basically told us we were just beginning to achieve and we should not accept all the habits of old as gospel and should not be afraid to set our own generation's new ideas into action.

    May 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Lance

      You were conditioned to applaud. He knew that.

      May 13, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
      • barnetmx


        May 13, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • BigSir

      Of all the names being thrown around here, Skinner is the one I would be interested in hearing.
      He gave out some great advice.

      May 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  37. Kitty

    Then, President of the US George Bush at Hampton University May 1991

    May 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  38. JonBax

    President Obama, Morehouse College on May19th !

    May 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  39. D. Wade

    CNN: Bill Cosby is also giving the commencement speech at MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY'S graduation this Sunday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    May 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  40. Tryphena

    Newark Mayor Corey Booker at Washington University in St. Louis on May 17.

    May 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • BRod

      He spoke at the 222nd commencement of Williams College, June 5, 2011. Amazing

      May 14, 2013 at 2:41 am |
  41. Lee

    1972 University of Virginia, commencement speaker was William F. Buckley

    May 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  42. TashaW.

    Jesse Jackson @ Tennessee State University plus Toni Morrison @ Vanderbilt University, I even got to meet her. 🙂

    May 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  43. agoodwin123

    forgetting the Dalai Lama at Tulane? No big deal.

    May 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  44. Simon's Rock Student

    CNN, You should probably note that Ben Bernanke is giving the commencement speech at Bard College at Simon's Rock, in Massachusetts.

    May 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  45. JohnnyDH

    University of Munich Class of 1940 – Adolph Hitler

    May 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Michael J.

      You're a moron.

      May 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
      • JohnnyDH

        That's not very nice, Mikey J

        May 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • RopeADope

      Still, though, if you're going to try to be funny, at least spell the guy's name right. "Adolph" Hitler is not famous, if he even exists/existed.

      May 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
  46. DUDDY


    May 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  47. Debbi

    Knox College which graduates only approximately 1,200 undergraduates a year has gotten, within the last 8 or so years, Madeleine Albright, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, former President Bill Clinton, current President (although at the time, mere Senator) Barack Obama, Stephen Colbert and this year will host Ed Helms. Helps to have Jon Podesta as a proud alum 🙂

    May 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  48. justtheoracle

    Fairleigh Dickinson 1981 – Dizzy Gillespie. I remember his speech verbatim: "They told me I was gonna have to give a commencement address, but I don't know where he lives. So I'll just let my horn do my talking."

    May 13, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  49. theo

    bill cosby spoke at the '97 nyu commencement ceremony. he had only three words for us... "Get a job!" i'm surprised he's still invited to these things after that.

    May 13, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  50. JohnnyDH

    Bob Saget gave my commencement address. He did a great job.

    May 13, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
  51. Michele

    College of Mount Saint Vincent, 2009 – John Patrick Shanley, Director of Doubt

    May 13, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  52. Lucy

    Julie Andrews, Not on the list???

    May 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  53. AboutTheSame

    Gary Trudeau @ UC Berkeley School of Law [Boalt Hall} 1977. Joanie Caucus was in our class, so I think he pretty much HAD to come. Made some funny observations about the similarities and differences between graduation ceremonies and student demonstrations.

    May 13, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  54. steve

    Larry Gatlin spoke at Volunteer State Community College's commencement.....oh wait, the headline read "2013 Big Name College Commencement Speakers".

    May 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  55. Carl Smith

    Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury fame spoke at U of Penn in 1979. I don't remember the specifics but remember laughing during most of it.

    May 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  56. Don

    President Obama will speak at the Naval Academy...where the traditional Blue Angels flyover and demonstration are cancelled because of sequestration-based cuts.

    May 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  57. Sue

    Syracuse University 2004 – Phylicia Rashad -TERRIBLE!!!

    May 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Seamus

      I was there. She wrote it on the ride from the airport to the University. It was a disgrace. I wrote the Chancellor And advised him of my displeasure.

      The following year they began to get serious again Dr Jane Goodall

      May 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  58. Alex

    Bill Cosby also spoke at my Commencement ceremony in 2003 at Bradley University

    May 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  59. Mark

    Bryant University 2008 – President George H. W. Bush

    May 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  60. ExDore

    Vanderbilt's commencement speaker last week was Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Pretty spectactular speech.

    May 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  61. THe Doctor

    In 2009 KU had our Chancellor, Robert Hemenway. He told everyone to take a picture of their neighbor (we were all siting in the stands at Memorial Stadium. Totally uninspiring and forgettable. The University, with a new chancellor, has since decided to invite our "inspiring" speakers.

    May 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  62. Boo

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome. I could listen to him talk about the universe for hours.

    May 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  63. Jon

    Yeah really, how does the Dalai Lama not get put on this list?

    May 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Lee Adams

      I agree, how'd the Dali Lama not make the list?!!!! Headed down to there for my niece!

      May 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  64. Matt

    On May 18, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be speaking at the Tulane University commencement in New Orleans, LA. It's sad to see the His Holiness couldn't get top bill on CNN's list over baseball players and track stars.

    May 13, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  65. Johnny Vaught

    I guess the widow of Medgar Evers doesn't rate???

    May 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  66. Kirsten

    Bill Cosby will being speaking at the Marquette University Commencement in Milwaukee, WI this Sunday May 19th.

    May 13, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Boo

      Cosby is awesome, too. My brother went to MUHS.

      May 13, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  67. kaustubhdeo

    Here at Penn, VP Biden will be delivering the address today

    May 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  68. Julia

    Wow, very interesting that Former President Bill Clinton, who spoke at Howard University in Washington DC this past weekend, did not make this list. But I can't say that I'm all that surprised.

    May 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Stephanie

      President Clinton also spoke 2 weeks ago at UCF, in Orlando...He doesn't make the list, but Annie Lennox does. Wow.

      May 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  69. joegoofinoff

    As a Professor ofNigrologyI'm giving a comencement talk on our continuing experiments in thefiinalsolutionto
    theblackquestionof the nation.

    May 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  70. Rohan

    We at Embry-Riddle had the legendary astronaut Story Musgrave as our commencement speaker. Please add him to the article/list. You have only listed the "A-list" celebrities who became famous for their money or TV appearances. Other than Neil Degrasse Tyson, there isn't a single person here who did not have monetary/financial/parental/aristocratic/political help. That is indeed a shame.

    May 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Jack

      Neil Degrasse Tyson never had any monetary/financial/parental/aristocratic help? Did he come out of the womb with cash and astrophysics? Everyone has help you dolt. No one does anything by themselves. And those people who became "famous for their money"? Obama is famous for his money and tv appearences? Are you confusing anyone who has been on TV as being famous for being on TV? He's on TV because he's the damn President. Wynton Marsalis is famous for his money? What a self-righteous twit you are.

      May 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Matt

      Eagles !!!

      May 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  71. Ripken

    Ripken spelled with an "e"

    May 13, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Thank you for pointing it out! We've made that fix.

      May 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
      • jerry

        Um, Dalai Llama?? Fix the list CNN. Totally ridiculous!

        May 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  72. Klargar

    Where is Michele Bachman speaking,or Sarah Palin ?

    May 13, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • b morningstar

      Who cares? Neither acts like they have an education. So why speak to intelligent grads.

      May 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  73. Sam Ballen

    The Dalai Lama is speaking at Tulane. Probably a bigger deal than some of these people.

    May 13, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Mike D

      Was just about to post that, and agreed! I can't wait for it. This Saturday, I believe.

      May 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Matt

      ROLL WAVE!

      May 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  74. Melissa Davis

    The Southern Virginia University commencement speaker rated an entire article in The Atlantic, but not a single mention on your list.

    May 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  75. Micayla

    Are you serious? John Green doesn't rate?

    May 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • BigSir

      Apparently not, who is he?

      May 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm |