by Harry Enten
May 28, 2014
Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice recently pulled out of giving the commencement address at Rutgers University after students protested. Rice was just the latest would-be commencement speaker to face criticism and withdraw. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, bowed out of speaking at Smith College after students there protested. Robert Birgeneau, who was chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley when police used batons to break up an Occupy protest, declined to attend the graduation ceremony at Haverford College, where he was set to receive an honorary degree. Students and faculty had objected to the visit.
Conservatives have complained that they’ve been singled out, leaving only non-politicians and Democrats to offer a final word to newly-minted college graduates. Based on commencement address data from the last two years, they’re right.
For the 2013 and 2014 commencement seasons, I looked up the guest commencement speaker at the top 30 universities and the top 30 liberal arts colleges as rated by U.S. News and World Report. In cases where there was no guest commencement speaker, I took the guest baccalaureate, class day or senior day speaker.
….As it turns out, I couldn’t find a single clearly aligned Republican political figure who spoke at any of these schools in the past two years. (Two tables showing all the speakers are at the bottom of this post). Twenty-five Democrats spoke. Eleven Democrats gave the main commencement address among the top 30 universities, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Mississippi governor and current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. At the top 30 liberal arts schools, it was 14 Democrats.