My Speaker’s Bigger Than Your Speaker

Which graduation speechifier would you want to hear?

My daughter had her nose out of joint over Spring Break because my son’s college’s commencement speaker is famous and her college’s isn’t. It’s indubitably true that some graduation speakers outshine others, for their snob appeal more than for anything they actually say in the course of lengthy and tedious festivities in weather that’s quite hot. Rutgers University stepped into a PR bee’s nest this spring when word leaked out that its commencement speaker, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, was being paid $30,000 for her services. (Most speakers appear gratis except for expenses.) Rutgers president Richard McCormick stood by his decision, explaining that he wanted “a world-class speaker, a genuine headliner,” to attract crowds to this year’s ceremony, being held at the school’s football field for the first time. He also noted that $30,000 is half Morrison’s normal speaking fee. But Rutgers must be hemorrhaging cash; the school paid Jersey Shore star Snooki $32,000 for a speech last week. What’s tuition up to these days, President McCormick, sir?

The buzz over Morrison got me wondering: Who’ll be standing behind other local podiums this spring?

The list is long and varied. LaSalle offers up Channel 3 newswoman Pat Ciarrocchi; Immaculata has St. Joe’s hoops coach Phil Martelli. (St. Joe’s choice is still TBA.) Albright has Governor Tom Corbett; Chestnut Hill College has his wife, Susan. Penn will host Denzel Washington, whose son Malcolm is a sophomore there. Dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison is speaking at Bryn Mawr; ex-Phil Jamie Moyer’s wife Karen, mother of eight and daughter of famed Notre Dame b-ball coach Digger Phelps, is on tap at Rosemont. Temple will hear remarks from alum Chris Matthews; at Haverford, humanitarian and former Sixer star Dikembe Mutombo will hold forth. And Ursinus students may get more than they expect from alum Kimberly McFadden Guadalgo, the first female lieutenant governor in New Jersey history, whose otherwise button-down Wikipedia page, when last checked, included this under “Personal life”: “She is affectionately known as ‘Snooki’ by her eldest son, Kevin.” (Way to troll your mom, son!)

For the life of me, I can’t remember who spoke at my college graduation. I hope this year’s grads will have either better speakers or better memories.

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