Graduation 2014: Politicians Hit The Commencement Circuit

By Alina Kleineidam

Apr 29, 2014 2:59pm
GTY obama graduation kab 140429 16x9 608 Graduation 2014: Politicians Hit The Commencement Circuit

Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

It’s that time of the year again – high school, college and university graduation ceremonies are coming up. And as is the case every year, prominent political figures — from the president to members of his cabinet — are getting into the action, passing along their wisdom to the next generation.

President Obama will deliver commencement speeches at three institutions this year: West Point Military Academy, Worcester Technical High School and the University of California, Irvine.

But before this year’s commencement season even started, his wife, first lady Michelle Obama already stoked controversy.

The first lady was supposed to give a graduation speech at an assembly of high schools in the Topeka, Kansas Public School District on May 17. But students and parents started a petition against Obama speaking at the commencement ceremony over fears that her presence would limit the number of tickets for family members.

After the online petition attracted over 2,500 signatures last week, Mrs. Obama changed the date of her speech to May 16, “Senior Recognition Day,” which also marks the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which helped integrate public schools.

She will also deliver commencement addresses at Dillard University and the District of Columbia College Access Program.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden will address graduates at the University of South Carolina, where he will receive an honorary degree of doctor of public administration.

Secretary of State John Kerry will address graduates at his alma mater, Yale University, in Connecticut.

“When he graduated from Yale College in 1966, John Kerry delivered the class oration,” according to Yale’s Office of Public Affairs. “This May, Kerry — now U.S. secretary of state — will again take the podium before a crowd of graduating seniors, only this time as the keynote speaker on Class Day, part of Commencement weekend.”

Former President Bill Clinton will speak to some 140 graduating students during the ceremony at NYU Abu Dhabi’s new campus on Saadiyat Island.

Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, will be the guest speaker and receive an honorary degree at the University of Vermont’s 2014 spring commencement ceremony.

And it’s not just current elected officials who are joining the graduation celebrations.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will deliver the commencement address at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. She will receive a doctor of international relations honorary degree.

Former Vice President Al Gore has been selected to deliver the keynote address at Princeton University’s Class Day, which takes place the day before the university’s commencement. And former Secretary of State Colin Powell will speak at High Point University in North Carolina.

Other notable speakers: former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Harvard University and Williams College), Sen. Mary Landrieu (Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Rep. John Lewis (Emory University in Atlanta), former presidential candidate John Huntsman (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Navy Secretary Ray Mabus (University of Virginia).

Other Commencement Controversies

Michelle Obama was not the only political figure to cause a stir this graduation season. On Tuesday roughly 50 Rutgers University students were staging a sit-in to protest the school’s decision to invite former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak at the university’s commencement next month.

Several faculty members and students want the invitation rescinded because of Rice’s role in the Iraq war.

Rowan University’s announcement that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be giving the commencement speech has caused a stir with some of its students.

Last month, several Rowan students were ejected from a town hall meeting held by Christie in Mount Laurel, N.J., for heckling him and shouting criticisms about his handling of Hurricane Sandy relief funding and the George Washington Bridge scandal.

All The President’s Graduation Speeches

Since Barack Obama took over in 2009, several academic institutions have received the honor of a presidential graduation speech.

Last year Obama gave commencement addresses at Ohio State University, the Unites States Naval Academy and at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black college in Atlanta.

“Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it,” said Obama to Morehouse graduates, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t have work, because if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that too few of our brothers have the opportunities that you’ve had here at Morehouse.”

Among others, Obama has also addressed graduates at Barnard College, an all-women’s school affiliated with Columbia University in upper Manhattan, the United States Air Force Academy, the United States Military Academy, Notre Dame University, as well as graduates at the Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis.

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