Last week the commencement speaker who will be addressing MSU’s graduating class of 2011 was announced. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc., will be delivering long lasting words to excited seniors. Michigan State has had a long tradition of inviting distinguished citizens to speak at the undergraduate fall and spring commencement ceremonies, as well as the advanced degree commencements. Commencement speeches haven’t always been delivered by famous people or distinguished individuals, nor have they been the cheapest thing either.
The university has set forth important speaker recommendation guidelines in an effort to find ideal individuals to address the graduating classes. The MSU Board of Trustees explains that “the nominees should be individuals whose accomplishments and values are exemplary. The speaker selections should enhance the ceremonies without deflecting attention from the graduates, whose academic achievements are being recognized.”
Individuals who have spoken at MSU over the past 150 years have had exemplary accomplishments and values. The tradition of commencement speaking began in 1861 (this is the first year we have documentation of a commencement speaker), however, the college had not yet gotten into the tradition of bringing in outside individuals. In the earlier years of speeches, the college would give the students an opportunity to address their graduating class. Numbers of student orators ranged from seven to thirteen depending on how many individuals were in the graduating class and they were given anywhere from five to twelve minutes to deliver their speeches. This tradition still lives on, for each year the university chooses one graduating senior to deliver a speech to his or her fellow classmates.
Currently, the University hosts two graduation ceremonies, one in the fall, and one in the spring. This tradition has also evolved over the years. Until 1951 the university only had one graduation ceremony. This changed in 1952 when there were three separate commencement events, spring, winter, and fall. In 1992, this changed yet again, and the university would hold only two ceremonies, one in the spring and one in the fall. We still follow this tradition today.
Today, the University strives to bring in a distinguished citizen of society. Bringing in these individuals is not as easy or inexpensive as you may think. This act often comes with a hefty price tag. The most money spent on a commencement speaker was for President Bill Clinton in 1995. A VIP brunch was held for the president which cost $100,000; this was funded by the Jenison Fund, a fund set aside by the university for special events. For this event, the alumni association spent $37,000 on decorations alone. After all was said and done, the total cost to bring President Clinton to MSU was $528,000!
Michigan State has brought in a wide variety of individuals to address the graduating classes. Here are a few distinguished individuals who have delivered past commencement speeches…
1900: Booker T. Washington (June 15), Tuskegee, Alabama
1907: President Theodore Roosevelt
1925: Honorable Frank O. Lowden, Republican President Candidate 1924, Chicago, Illinois
1937: William G. Cameron, Ford Motor Company
1938: The Honorable Frank Murphy, Governor of Michigan, Detroit, Michigan
1948: Charles F. Kettering, General Motors Engineer, Detroit, Michigan
1950: The Honorable Alben W. Barkley, Vice President of the United States, Washington, D.C.
1951: The Honorable Nelson A. Rockefeller, Chairman, International Advisory Board, New York City, New York
1957-S: The Honorable Richard M. Nixon, Vice President of the United States
1958-S: The Honorable Adlai E. Stevenson
1959-S: The Right Honorable John G. Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada
1960-S: The Honorable Harry S. Truman, Thirty-third President of the United States
1961-S: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
1964-S: Dr. John W. Gardner, President, Carnegie Corporation
1965-W: The Honorable Gerald R. Ford, United States Representative, Fifth District, Michigan
1965-S: The Honorable Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States
1966-S: The Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President of the United States
1972-S: Osborn Elliott, Chairman of the Board, Newsweek
1973-S: Walter Cronkite, Managing Editor, CBS Evening News
1974-F: Van Cliburn, Pianist
1975-S: Katherine Graham, Publisher of the Washington Post
1977-W: John A. Meyers, Publisher of Sports Illustrated
1979-W: Gene F. Jankowske, President, CBS Broadcast Group
1981-S: Francis James McDonald, President, General Motors
1987-S: Joe H. Stroud, Editor, Detroit Free Press
1988-W: The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
1989-F: Stevland Morris (Stevie Wonder)
1991-S: The Honorable John M. Engler, Governor, The State of Michigan
1995-S: The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton, Fourty-second President of the United States
1995-S: Ingrid Saunders Jones, Vice President of Corporate External Affairs for the Coca-Cola Company and Chairperson of the Coca-Cola Foundation
1995-F: Frederik Meijer, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Meijer Incorporated
1999-S: Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize
2001-F: W. Clark Bunting, Executive Vice President and General Manager, The Discovery Channel, Bethesda, Maryland
2004-S: Condoleezza Rice, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, National Security Council, Washington, D.C.
2005-S: Maya Angelou, Best-Selling Author and Inaugural Poet, Civil Rights Activist, Educator, Historian, Actress, Playwright, Producer and Director.
2006-S: Berry Gordy, Founder of Motown Records
2009-S: The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus, Nobel Peace Prize ’84
I look forward to see who will be the future commencement speakers for the graduating classes of MSU.
For the complete list of commencement speakers, click here.