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College Graduation Speakers of 2013

April 9, 2013
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Each spring, countless college seniors anxiously await graduation, when they can cross the stage with diploma in hand. Many just want their freedom from class to begin as quickly as possible, but for a lucky few, the keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony may be just as exciting to witness.

It’s no secret that Ivy League Universities and other prestigious institutions tend to snag more popular public figures to address the graduating class. Here’s who will speak at the top 20 national universities in 2013.


  • Newark Mayor Cory Booker will speak at graduation events for 3 of the top 20 universities this year
  • Dropbox Founder and CEO Drew Houston, 30, is the youngest commencement speaker in the history of MIT and the youngest speaker on our list. 
  • 2 schools (Brown and Columbia) do not invite outside speakers to the main commencement ceremony
  • 65%* of speakers are men
  • 65%* of speakers studied at a top 20 university themselves
  • Poets and dancers to politicians and astrophysicists: the speakers of 2013 come from a variety of backgrounds

*Counting Cory Booker for all 3 of his appearances

University Speaker Occupation Alma Mater
1 Harvard University Oprah Winfrey CEO & CCO of the Oprah Winfrey Network Tennessee State University
2 Princeton University David Remnick Editor, The New Yorker Princeton University
3 Yale University Cory Booker Mayor, Newark, NJ Stanford University (B.A., M.A.)
Oxford University (M.A.)
Yale Law School (J.D.)
4 Columbia University* Lee C. Bollinger President, Columbia University University of Oregon (B.S.)
Columbia Law School (J.D.)
4 University of Chicago Abbie J. Smith Professor of Accounting, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business Cornell University
6 MIT Drew Houston CEO, Dropbox Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6 Stanford University Michael Bloomberg Mayor, New York City Johns Hopkins University (B.S.)
Harvard University (M.B.A.)
8 Duke University Melinda Gates Co-Chair & Operator, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Duke University
8 University of Pennsylvania Joe Biden Vice President, United States of America University of Delaware (B.A.)
Syracuse University (J.D.)
10 California Institute of Technology Mary Sue Coleman President, University of Michigan Grinnell College (B.S.)
University of North Carolina (Ph.D.)
10 Dartmouth College TBA
12 Northwestern University Mikhail Baryshnikov Founder & Artistic Director, Baryshnikov Arts Center
13 Johns Hopkins University TBA
14 Washington University in St. Louis Cory Booker Mayor, Newark, NJ Stanford University (B.A., M.A.)
Oxford University (M.A.)
Yale Law School (J.D.)
15 Brown University**
15 Cornell University Cory Booker Mayor, Newark, NJ Stanford University (B.A., M.A.)
Oxford University (M.A.)
Yale Law School (J.D.)
17 Rice University Neil deGrasse Tyson Director, Hayden Planetarium
Harvard University (B.A.)
University of Texas at Austin (M.A)
Columbia University (M.Phil., Ph.D.)
17 University of Notre Dame Timothy Dolan Archbishop of New York
President, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Cardinal Glennon College
Pontifical North American College in Rome
17 Vanderbilt University Toni Morrison Author Howard University (B.A)
Cornell University (M.A)
20 Emory University Rita Dove Professor, University of Virginia
Miami University (B.A)
University of Iowa (M.F.A)

* It is a tradition for Columbia’s President to speak – there are no visiting speakers except at individual college ceremonies
** No outside speakers – student speakers only

Other notable speakers

Luckily, the top schools in the rankings don’t stop other great colleges from securing exemplary graduation speakers of their own. NerdWallet sought out 20 other top graduation speakers to watch for in 2013.