Aretha Franklin, Wolf Blitzer, Dick Vermeil and Judge Marjorie Rendell will be back on the college campus this month.

They will be the commencement speakers or honorary degree recipients as more than 60 area colleges and universities begin holding graduation ceremonies and sending thousands into the workforce or grad schools.

New Jersey colleges in 2004-05, the most recent year for which records are available, granted 62,058 degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Pennsylvania colleges awarded about 137,683 degrees in 2004-2005, the latest figures available, the center said.

Aretha Franklin will receive an honorary doctor of music degree from the University of Pennsylvania on May 14. Franklin describes Philadelphia as a city where she grew musically.

"A lot of my early training was in Philadelphia, so it's appropriate and delightful that I'm receiving a degree from the University of Pennsylvania," she said.

Franklin, who never attended college, said she gained her educational experience through her lifelong musical career.

"Philadelphia was a nurturing training ground for me. At the beginning of my career I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia at Showboat and Pep's on Broad Street, and later at the Cadillac Club when it opened. A young Bill Cosby used to come and see me there."

When asked if she had any words for the Penn graduates, Franklin replied, "The sky's the limit, but you've got to reach for it."

The sky is the limit. According to Franklin's publicist, the Queen of Soul will be arriving to Philadelphia via her tour bus because she's fearful of flying.

Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN's The Situation Room, will speak about international news when he addresses graduates May 12 at Franklin and Marshall College.

Blitzer, who will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, said he will stress world news and make it relevant to young people on their way to a first job, graduate school or medical school.

"I'm going to talk about the world today. I had some ideas ready to go until . . . the Virginia Tech massacre occurred. It had a pretty profound impact on me even though I've covered many stories, that story hit home," said Blitzer who has covered major events from war in Iraq to presidential elections.

"I've given commencement speeches to a lot of schools along the years, and I struggle in the weeks before to think of something timely and relevant. One major theme is that you can help create your own luck. Don't just wait and hope you will get lucky. If you are at the right place at the right time and take advantage of opportunities, the luck will come," said Blitzer.

Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil will address Chestnut Hill College's first coeducational graduating class on May 12. Both Vermeil and his wife, Carol, will receive honorary doctor of law degrees.

Vermeil, who coached the Eagles from 1976 to 1982 and retired from the NFL in 2005, said he was planning to speak on continuing education after graduation.

"I would probably build a theme around the fact that after graduation your education is just beginning, not ending. Learning is a daily process from there on out," said Vermeil, who received his undergraduate and master's degrees from San Jose State.

Vermeil compared college commencement to a game day and the graduates as a team to coach on life's lessons.

U.S. Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell, Pennsylvania's first lady, will address graduates at Gwynedd-Mercy College, Rutgers University School of Law at Camden, and Wilson College. She will receive honorary doctor of humane letters degrees at all three schools.

In a written response to The Inquirer, Rendell said she planned to tailor three different speeches to each school's mission.

In her statement, Rendell said, "I always try, in some way, to speak about a 'civil society' and, not only our rights, but our responsibilities, as citizens. But, as mentioned, each is entirely different in content."

At Penn, James A. Baker 3d, cochair of the Iraq Study Group, will be the commencement speaker.

The university starts the process of choosing speakers and candidates for honorary degrees more than a year in advance.

Leslie Kruhly, secretary of the University of Pennsylvania, is a liaison to three committees in charge of the decision process - University Council Honorary Degrees Committee, Trustee Committee on Honorary Degrees and Awards and the Speaker Advisory Group.

"We have a very broad and collaborative process at Penn. In the fall of every year, the president and faculty members in the University Council Honorary Degrees Committee and some students publish a statement in an in-house newsletter asking for recommendations. Anyone can make a recommendation for honorary degree recipients. Once the faculty committee makes its decision, it goes to the trustee committee."

Kruhly said students have a say in the nomination process but the final decision is made by the Trustee Committee on Honorary Degrees and Awards.

Brett Thalmann, 21, outgoing chair of the undergraduate assembly, also served on the Speaker Advisory Group. Thalmann, a political science and business management major graduating in 2008, said the faculty and student input is valued and taken very seriously.

"Students emphasized trying to get a speaker that was internationally known for their public service. Last year, we had Jodie Foster and there were some concerns among students around that time that it wasn't the best choice. Jodie turned out to be a really great speaker and very engaging," said Thalmann.

Contact Amanda Rittenhouse at 215-854-2813 or


Who’s Appearing at Area College Graduations

School Date Speaker
Albright College May 20 Anne L. Stevens, president of Carpenter Technology
Alvernia College May 20 to be announced
Arcadia University May 18 Harriet Mayor Fullbright, Louis Pollak, Walter Hellendall
Bryn Mawr College May 20 Convocation Speaker: Jane Eisner, vice president of the Constitution Center (The convocation is separate from commencement but held at the same time and place.)
Bucknell University May 20 Bob Woodward, journalist/author
Bucks County Community College May 17 Diane Gibbons, alumna and Bucks County District Attorney
Burlington County College May 19 Vincent Farias, freeholder liaison
Cabrini College May 20 Brian Tierney, CEO, Philadelphia Media Holdings
Camden County College May 19 Pamela Lampitt, assemblywoman
Chestnut Hill College May 12 Dick Vermeil, former Eagles coach
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania May 12 Bill Cosby
Community College of Philadelphia May 20 George Burrell, CEO of Innovation Philadelphia
Delaware County Community College May 17 Mel Lindauer, alumnus, financial analyst and author
Delaware Valley College May 19 Thomas W. Watson, alumnus, dean of Omnicon University, former Omnicon Group vice chairman
Dickinson College May 20 R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. State Department
Drexel University June 16 to be announced
Drexel University College of Medicine May 18 Steven Wartman, Association of Academic Health Centers CEO
Eastern University May 12 Roberta Hestenes, past president of Eastern University
Franklin & Marshall College May 12 Wolf Blitzer, CNN anchor
Gettysburg College May 20 Harold Prince, theatrical producer and director
Gloucester County College May 18 Robert Shryock, TV reporter and columnist for Gloucester County Times
Gwynedd-Mercy College May 12 Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, first lady of Pennsylvania
Harcum College May 19 Joe Sestak, U.S. congressman (Pa., 7th)
Haverford College May 20 Michael Dombeck, Barbara Ehrenreich, Freeman Hrabowski, Ghebre Selassie Mehreteab
Holy Family University May 12 Sister H. Rosalie Bertell, Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart
Immaculata University May 20 Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project H.O.M.E.
Jefferson Medical College June 1 Marian Wright Edelman, Children's Defense Fund founder and Paul O'Neill, former Secretary of Treasury
La Salle University May 13 Ricardo Johnson, graduating senior
Lafayette College May 19 Michael Beschloss, historian
Lehigh University May 21 Erik Weihenmayer, author-educator; only blind individual to climb the Seven Summits
Lincoln University May 6 Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins
Mansfield University May 12 James W. Loewen, author
Moravian College May 12 Theresa Dougal, faculty member and Peter Cunha, student graduate
Montgomery County Community College May 17 Brian C. Mitchell, president of Bucknell University
Moore College of Art and Design May 14 Penny Balkan Bach, Fairmount Park Art Association director and Tendai Johnson, American University professor
Muhlenberg College May 20 Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury comic strip artist
Neumann College May 19 J. Mark Baiada and Ann Baiada, founders of Bayada Nurses and Bayad Ability
Peirce College June 5 Robin Roberts, coanchor of ABC News' Good Morning America
Penn State Abington May 18 Pedro Cortes, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth
Penn State Delaware County May 19 Elizabeth "Jo" Buckmaster, original faculty member from the university's 1967 opening
Penn State Great Valley May 18 Matt Gillin, CEO of E-count
Penn State University May 18 Lou Shiming, Tom Curley, Robert Tony Watson, (main campus) and 19 Gerald R. Zahorchak, Janet B. Cunningham, Jerry Sandusky, John Meyer, Linda Woodbridge, Anthony S. Fauci, and Brigadier Gen. James A. Whitmore
Philadelphia University May 20 Michael Graves, architect
Princeton University June 5 Shirley M. Tilghman, university president
Rider University (main campus) May 11 Yuan Ji, president of Sanda University
Rosemont College May 19 Pat Ciarrocchi, CBS3 journalist
Rowan University May 11 James R. Zazzali, chief justice, New Jersey Supreme Court
Rutgers University-New Brunswick May 16 Tavis Smiley, broadcast and political commentator
Rutgers University School of Business at Camden May 17 Douglas R. Conant, CEO of Campbell's Soup
Rutgers University School of Law at Camden May 17 Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, first lady of Pennsylvania
Rutgers-Camden May 17 Roger J. Dennis, dean of Drexel Law School
St. Joseph's University May 12 Mary Lou Quinlan, co-star of ABC reality show American Inventor, Just Ask a Woman CEO
Susquehanna University May 13 Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire's first female governor, director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard
Swarthmore College June 3 Pres. Alfred H. Bloom, Marcia Montin Grant, Bob Moses, J. Robert Prichard, CEO, Torstar
Temple University May 17 Ann Weaver Hart, university president
The Art Institute of Philadelphia June 15 William V. Larkin, The Art Institute of Philadelphia president
The College of New Jersey May 18 Thomas Gerard McCarthy, former Phillies announcer
University of Delaware May 26 William P. Kupper, BusinessWeek group CEO
University of Pennsylvania May 14 James A. Baker 3d, Iraq Study Group cochair
University of the Arts May 24 Rosalyn Drexler, pop artist
University of the Sciences in Philadelphia May 23 Judith Rodin, Rockefeller Foundation president
Ursinus College May 12 Jeffrey D. Sachs, Columbia University professor and director of the Earth Institute
Villanova University May 20 Chris Matthews, journalist and author
West Chester University May 12 Kevin M. Kennedy, Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process
Westminster Choir College May 12 Donald Allured, handbell specialist, former faculty and director of Westminster Handbell Choir of Rider University
Widener University May 19 Andrew J. Young, former U.S. ambassador
Wilson College May 20 Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, first lady of Pennsylvania and Capt. Annie B. Andrews, officer in U.S. Navy and vocalist
Wilkes University May 19 Marlee Matlin, Oscar-winning actress
York College May 12 Robert P. Casey, U.S. Senator (D., Pa.)

Compiled by Amanda Rittenhouse