Plenty of variables in college education are subject to trends, from the most popular majors to the cost of tuition. One trend that seems to have significant staying power is celebrity commencement speakers (even while the cost of hosting famed speakers climbs). While the podium was once the primary territory of college faculty and presidents, it’s now a favorite platform for international power brokers, renowned artists and Hollywood’s elite.
To put the trend in perspective, The Daily Beast once again ranked which commencement speakers have been the most prolific throughout the course of the previous 50 years. While most of the list-makers are repeat performers, a four-school speaking circuit this year propels Secretary of Defense Robert Gates onto the list (even reigning all-time speaker Bill Cosby is only on-the-hook for addresses at three colleges this year). Gates has been attracting significant national attention thanks to the killing of Osama bin Laden, but has long been a favorite of naval and military academies.
To compile the second annual ranking, we expanded our database of speakers at 50 leading colleges and universities across the country for the last five decades to include 2011 commencement speakers. As well, we scoured this year’s news reports and public records to pinpoint recent or upcoming speeches. As last year, these numbers are conservative; some historical speeches may have been missed by our research. However, the list is a reliable indicator of the orators that have in the past and continue to appeal to multiple generations of graduates—transcending cultural whims or temporary fame. To see the most honorable honoraries, click here.