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The standard graduation speech is long gone, it's all about politics at commencement 2017by Circa Campus
Campus

WATCH |  In a politically charged time, commencement speakers are challenged with the task of being inspiring, relevant, and not too political.



After a tumultuous election year, colleges have had to decide how political they want their speakers to be. Many schools assemble committees includes students to select these speakers, but university officials have the final say.


As expected, some colleges still opted for political speakers, with Joe Biden at Cornell, Colby, and Harvard, Former Sec. Hillary Clinton at Wellesley and Medgar Evers College, Sen. Bernie Sanders at Brooklyn College, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at UMass-Amherst and Wheelock College, Vice President Mike Pence at the Naval Academy and Notre Dame, and Donald Trump at the Coast Guard Academy.


Many colleges, however, went for less polarizing options. In order to ease political tensions, colleges such as University of California, Berkeley decided to invite artists and writers. Though these speakers may discuss politics, they are certainly more neutral than government officials, who are inherently reactionary.  

Earlier this year students at Bethune-Cookman University turned their backs on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Shortly following that, students at Notre Dame University walked out of VP Mike Pence’s commencement speech.

Quite a few of the University of California schools invited speakers from diverse backgrounds. Comedian/Actor Will Ferrell gave a speech after he was honored with an honorary doctorate from USC in Los Angeles. 

Though many of them are not politicians, these speakers still focus on personal experiences.  Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American comedian and UC Berkeley’s speaker for this year.


Jobrani led into politics by praising UC Berkeley, saying that though the president has been enabling a rise in anti-immigration sentiments, UC Berkeley chose to send a message of inclusivity by having an immigrant speak at graduation.

Jobrani’s speech was meant to be comical yet resonated as political.  Jobrani shared his experiences as an immigrant and his views on free speech when he said, “I know I’m getting a little political and I might be upsetting your parents and grandparents, but hey, that will give you something to talk about over mimosas at brunch!"

On the other side of the country, Senator Bernie Sanders recently gave a speech at Brooklyn College, and though he spoke on political issues, he did not mention President Donald Trump’s name once.


"Never allow demagogues to divide us up by race, by religion, by national origin, by gender or sexual orientation."

Senator Bernie Sanders

Sanders went on to say, “Black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American, Christian, Jew, Muslim and every religion, straight or gay, male or female, we must stand together. This country belongs to all of us.”  Though he was clearly focusing on current issues, Sanders discussed politics without addressing the controversy that seems to constantly surround our current president.

Videos and transcripts of commencement speeches can reach audiences that are worlds away from college campuses, putting extra pressure on the speakers to make a statement.

Speakers are given a public platform to inspire and celebrate graduates, and whether that be through politics or not, the things being said are worth hearing. Though politics can be dividing, commencement speakers who get political are ultimately trying to unite and inspire students.

Join the conversation, #CircaCampus| Engagement Dir. James Cosgrove, email: jhcosgrove@circanews.com


(The article was provided by Circa Campus in partnership with GenFKD who has fellows oncollege campuses around the nation.  Circa Campus Contributor: Nicole Soto )