Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Graduation season set to start

Speakers with many specialties will share insights at more than 60 area colleges and universities.

James Zazzali Rowan University,May 11
James Zazzali Rowan University,May 11Read more

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.


Who’s Appearing at Area College Graduations

Compiled by Amanda Rittenhouse