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Student Life | COLLEGE GRADUATION | April 18, 2012

College Commencement Speakers 2012: StudentAdvisor’s Top Picks

By Taylor Cotter | Staff

Graduation day is supposed to be the culmination of your college career. Four (or more, or less) years of hard work, dedication, resume building, late nights, roommates, student groups – all of this finally ends on one day. However, your graduation ceremony might not be all it’s cracked up to be. You’ll be getting up early, figuring out logistics with your parents and family, trying to find your friends to sit next to, and actually make sure you pick up the right degree! College graduation ceremony might be almost as stressful as college in general.

However, there’s certainly a positive aspect: your commencement speaker. Even with all the chaos of graduation day, it’s important to sit back and listen to your speaker share a few words of their success and wisdom. Whether your keynote is from the President of the United States or a distinguished professor – they have something to say that you can apply to your next journey – after you find your friends in a sea of identical caps and gowns, of course.

Here are some of the more notable college commencement speakers for the Class of 2012 that the StudentAdvisor team is excited about:

10. Hampshire College – Eugene Mirman

Hampshire College is not one for a traditional graduation speaker. They leave the reporters and the politicians to their nearby institutions, and instead, opt for Twitter superstar and voice actor, Eugene Mirman, Mirman currently voices Gene Belcher on Bob’s Burgers and has toured with Flight of the Conchords and Patton Oswald, and opened for bands like The Shins, Modest Mouse and Cake. However, Mirman is arguably most famous for his tweets, and with jokes like “Hopefully the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plot will be about them trying to stop an evil director from remaking more cartoons,” there’s no doubt he’ll appeal to Hampshire’s social and smart students.

9. Southern Connecticut State University - Jenna Bush

Okay, this one is on the list because we’re a bit confused. Jenna Bush (Now Jenna Bush-Hager) was the notorious party-girl daughter of Former President Bush, caught underage drinking at college parties and using a fake I.Ds, as well as famously sticking her tongue out at journalists during her father’s 2004 campaign. I’ll give - that was eight years ago. Has she changed? Probably. Grown up? Sure. She’s currently the chairwoman of UNICEF’s Next Generation and a Today Show correspondent. However, I’d be a little miffed if my commencement speaker’s most famous college moment was being arrested twice for alcohol-related incidents. How do the seniors at Southern Connecticut State feel about this?

8. Sarah Lawrence College - Adam Savage

Adam Savage is, without question, an inspirational innovator and scientist. He pioneered “Mythbusters,” the Discovery Channel show where he uses scientific experimentation to prove or disprove common myths, including some pretty heavy ones, like natural selection. He’s also moved from scientist to television personality, and will certainly be able to ham it up for the Sarah Lawrence grads. Savage is the perfect storm of entertainment, science, and intellect – seems like a pretty good match for Sarah Lawrence.

7. University of Utah - Ed Catmull (Pixar Founder)

Game design is one of the fastest growing majors in the United States, so it’s only fitting that CGI pioneer Ed Catmull get a chance to share his keys to success in this industry. Catmull is the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation studios was integral in the graphics and effects in Star Wars, and was the original Chief Technology Officer for Pixar. He revolutionized animation and film and likely will inspire the University of Utah grads to harness their creativity and innovation.

6. Cooper Union - Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs gave arguably the most popular and quoted commencement speech of all time at Stanford in 2005. If we can’t recreate that, I suppose the next best thing is Walter Isaacson, acclaimed author of Steve Jobs biography. Isaacson has also written biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. As someone who has rubbed elbows with some of the greatest minds of our time, there’s no doubt that Isaacson has a ton of stories, and might have a few handed-down secrets for success for this year’s batch of Cooper Union graduates. Isaacson is a great commencement speaker choice for one of the nation’s top art, architecture and engineering colleges.

Brian Williams, photo credit Tulane University PR

5. George Washington University - Brian Williams

The Walter Cronkite of the 21st century and possibly the most eloquent speaker of all time, Brian Williams will be giving the keynote commencement speaker for George Washington University. Williams runs double duty as the anchor of NBC Nightly News and host of Rock Center, so I can guarantee that the GW grads are going to hear some great stories from a phenomenal journalist. However, what impresses me most about Williams is his comedic spots on The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien and 30 Rock. He might be a stoic journalist, but I’m sure he’ll have more than his share of laughs.

4. Syracuse University - Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin is screenwriter of movies like A Few Good Men, The Social Network and Moneyball, as well as television shows like The West Wing, Sports Night, and my favorite Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. His wit and insight to the entertainment industry are unparalleled, and I’m very interested to see what advice he gives the business and communications savvy grads of Syracuse University this May.

3. Northeastern University - Colin Powell

This might be a little biased, but I’m incredibly impressed with my commencement speaker, Colin Powell. After a few years of generally unrecognizable names, Northeastern University really pulled it together for the Class of 2012 and nabbed first African-American Secretary of State, Colin Powell. I’m looking forward to hearing the former Secretary speak about the importance of government and global vision – something that (most) Northeastern students have taken very seriously during their time in college.

2. Barnard College - Barack Obama; North Carolina A&T, OSU, VA Tech - Michelle Obama

It’s no surprise that the First Family is making the rounds to college graduations. Barack will be stopping by at Barnard College in New York, as well as a slew of high schools, while Michelle will be speaking at Virginia Tech, North Carolina A&T and Oregon State. Though this is generally expected, it’s got to be exciting for these grads knowing that they get an once-in-a-lifetime experience hearing the Obamas speak in person.

1. Smith College - Jane Lynch

I have to say, I’m absolutely jealous of the ladies of Smith College having Glee star Jane Lynch as their commencement speaker. Not only is Jane the breakout star of Glee, but also an Emmy host, Golden Globe nominee and author. I’m not sure that Colin Powell will crack that many jokes during my commencement on May 4th, but I can guarantee that the Smith grads will be in stitches. There are only a few people that could make me sit down and watch a YouTube video of another school’s commencement, but Sue Sylvester is definitely one of them.

Honorable Mentions

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