July 18, 2019 | 74° F

Commencement speakers at Rutgers are for the community and chosen by it

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Steven Van Zandt was the commencement speaker for the Rutgers­—New Brunswick Class of 2017, but the University has yet to announce this year’s presenter. Rutgers—Newark and Camden announced Queen Latifah and Anita Hill, respectively, as their speakers this year. 

Every year, outgoing seniors wait in anticipation as Rutgers announces its yearly commencement speaker, a process which takes heavy consideration from members of the University. 

In choosing a commencement speaker, the University's secretary first sends out a "Call for Nominations" for speakers at Rutgers—New Brunswick, Rutgers—Newark and Rutgers—Camden. She then distributes the nominations to each campus, said Felicia McGinty, the vice chancellor for Student Affairs. 

From there, the University assembles a Commencement Committee at each campus comprised of students, faculty or staff who sort through the nominations and choose an additional four nominees to include in their discussion, McGinty said. 

Once the committee has decided on who it wants to invite, it presents those selections to the chancellor of that campus. With his or her approval, the committee can invite the individuals they have chosen, McGinty said. 

Each Commencement Committee selects the individuals it wants to speak or to receive an honorary degree. Then, it will invite its selections speakers. 

“All nominations for honorary degrees must be approved by the Board of Governors,” McGinty said.  

To receive an honorary degree, there are certain criteria that must be completed and followed by the speaker. 

The recipient must provide evidence of outstanding achievement in a certain academic area or profession, according to the Office of the Secretary of the University. They must also provide evidence of distinguished service and performance in their accomplishments and evidence of a commitment to serving humankind.

McGinty said student opinions also play a role in choosing commencement speakers. Students can nominate individuals to visit the University.

When selecting non-commencement speakers, student groups and organizations usually have some idea of who they want to see. Individual students can also contact a speaker about coming to campus.

Ruth B. Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, said choosing a variety of speakers is important.

“Presenting a variety of perspectives and experiences is a priority at Eagleton, both in the classroom and in our public programs,” Mandel said.

Eagleton invites speakers from across the political spectrum to come to campus and discuss their views. These speakers explore how the U.S. political system works, how it changes and how it could improve, Mandel said. 

She said Eagleton aims to promote the celebration of democracy, respect for politics and civic engagement. It welcomes suggestions from students, staff and the community at large. 

Support from a Rutgers alumna, Lona Valmoro, was key in making it possible for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to come to campus, Mandel said. Valmoro is a senior advisor to Clinton.  

“We are proud and grateful for the strong Rutgers alumni network in politics and public service, and are thrilled that Lona (Valmoro) is able to introduce her boss at this Thursday’s event," Mandel said.

McGinty said students who feel that their views are not represented in the speakers who come to campus have the ability to bring their own lecturers to Rutgers.  

“Get involved with groups that represent your point of view. Work with those groups to bring speakers to campus that represent your social and political affiliation," McGinty said. 

Elizabeth Kilpatrick

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.