Suggest a Commencement Speaker

The Syracuse University Commencement speaker is chosen through an annual selection process that starts when students, staff, faculty, alumni, and others in the community offer speaker suggestions through this website.  The rolling list of speaker suggestions is linked below. The list is collected, duplicates removed and periodically updated on this page.


Speaker Selection Process

The speaker selection process begins more than one year in advance of Commencement.  The chosen speaker joins a long list of distinguished past Commencement speakers who have shared their thoughts, perspectives, and wisdom with Syracuse University graduates.

Student Committee

All names submitted through the website are compiled in an alphabetically unranked list and given to the official speaker selection committee composed of

  • senior class marshals (two seniors who represent the entire graduating class at commencement and who chair the committee);
  • student marshals from each of the University’s schools and colleges who represent their classmates;

Recommendations

This all-student committee reviews the names collected on the Commencement speaker suggestion list. Following their deliberations, the committee presents a list of proposed speakers to the University Senate, who then presents the list to the Chancellor. The Chancellor reviews the list and makes a final decision on the basis of relevance to the Syracuse University community, availability, and reasonableness of cost.

Criteria

All nominees for Commencement speaker must be eligible to receive an honorary degree from the University. The University Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees hosts a website detailing its process and criteria for selection. A vote by the University Senate decides which nominations are forwarded to the Chancellor for consideration.

A suggestion for Commencement speaker should be based on the following considerations:

  • Outstanding achievement in an academic field, the arts, business, etc.
  • Innovative and creative achievements
  • Humanitarian deeds and the degree to which the candidate’s activities have touched various lives
  • Extent to which candidate’s achievement represents sustained efforts over the course of his/her career
  • Extent to which candidate represents an outstanding model for our graduates
  • The honor brought to SU should the candidate accept the nomination


Submitted Speaker Suggestions 

Last 

First

Identifying Information

Affiliation

Date Submitted 

Abrams

Stacey

American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author. Served in the Georgia House of Representatives 2007-2017.

Student

07.20.2020

Bader Ginsburg

Ruth 

Second woman Justice to serve on the US Supreme Court. 

Student

06.22.2020

Bush

George W.

Former US President.

Student

02.29.2020

Biden 

Joe 

President-elect of the US (2020), College of Law alumnus. 

Student 

09.19.2019

Dr. Brown 

Brene 

Research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation. 

Graduate Student 

09.20.2019

Brown

Jim

Former American professional football player, SU alumnus.

Alum

11.10.20

Chast

Roz

Staff Cartoonist for the NYTimes.

Alum & Mother of 2020 Graduate

09.20.2019

Colbert 

Stephen

Comedian & political commentator.

Student 

10.22.2019

Cooper

Anderson

American journalist, CNN anchor.

Student

06.22.2020

Costas

Bob

Emmy Award-winning American sportscaster, MLB Network commentator and host of Studio 42 with Bob Costas. Known for his long tenure with NBC Sports (1980-2018) and as the prime-time host of 11 Olympic Games (1992-2016). 

Masters Candidate

12.25.2019

Coughlin

Tom

American Football Coach – led teams to the Superbowl twice in his career. SU alumnus. 

Parent of current students 

01.21.2020

DiCaprio

Leonardo

Actor, environmentalist, producer. 

Student

10.22.2019

Downey Jr.

Robert

Golden Globe-winning actor, known for his role as Tony Stark in “The Avengers.”

Student

06.22.2020

Fiss 

Owen

Parent of a College of Law Graduate. Yale Law School Sterling Professor, author, and presenter on democracy and free speech.

Parent of 2020 Graduate 

11.26.2019

Dr. Goodall

Jane

Named one of the most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine (2019). Her important work and peaceful message of embracing one another is more important today than ever.

Alum & Parents of 2020 Graduate 

11.25.2019

Ellis Ross

Tracee

Comedian, actress, television host. 

Student

02.25.2020

Hanks

Tom

Actor, filmmaker. Funny and inspirational. 

Student

11.27.2019

Hayden

Carla

Library of Congress.

Student

10.16.2019

Hochul

Kathy

Lieutenant Governor of New York, demonstrates dedication to public service throughout her life. Graduate of Syracuse University – Class of 1980. 

Student

02.03.2020

Kenny 

Tom

Voice of SpongeBob SquarePants & Syracuse Native. 

Alum & Parent of 2020 Graduate

11.15.2019

McDonough

Sean

ESPN sports broadcaster. Graduate of Syracuse University – Class of 1984.

Alum

05.10.2020

Musk

Elon

Business mogul, renewable energy investor & influencer, entrepreneur, founder & CEO of SpaceX, co-founder of Tesla. 

Student

09.23.2019

Noah

Trevor

Comedian, political satirist, author.

Student

02.13.2020

Nye

Bill

Popularly known from television as “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Climate Change activist and educator. 

Student

03.09.2020

Obama

Michelle

Former First Lady of the US.

Student

09.25.2019

Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria 

US Representative for the 14th congressional district of New York.

Student 

10.17.2019

Oliver

John

Comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, TV host.

Student

11.25.2019

Owens

Candace

Author, conservative commentator, founder of the Blexit movement – the black exit from the Democratic Party (Fox News). 

Student

12.16.2019

Platt

Ben

American actor, singer, and songwriter. Known for his roles in the Broadway productions of “The Book of Mormon” and “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Student

07.20.2020

Raisman

Aly

Olympic Gymnast, Public Speaker, Influencer.

Graduate Student 

01.31.2020

Ramanathan

Veerabhadran

Professor of Applied Ocean Sciences and Director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Fellow of the US National Academy of Sciences who specializes in climate change. 

Student

03.10.2020

Richardson

Kevin

One of the Exonerated Five. 

Student

11.01.2019

Rogan

Joe

Famous podcaster, comedian, TV personality. 

Student 

10.02.2019

Rye

Angela

Political commentator for CNN, entrepreneur. She is at the forefront of today’s issues and has an amazing ability to deliver inspiring speeches. 

Newhouse Graduate Student 

12.01.2019

Scranton

Roy

Recipient of the Theresa A. White Literary Award (2009), Mrs. Giles G. Whiting Fellowship (2014), Lannan Literary Fellowship (2017).  Accomplished writer published in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, currently teaching at the University of Notre Dame. 

Student

03.09.2020

Solomon

Susan

Recipient of the National Medal of Science (1999), Nobel Prize as a member of IPCC (2007), Inaugural Class member of the Government Hall of Fame (2019). Internationally recognized climate scientist, specializes in atmospheric chemistry and currently teaching and researching at MIT. 

Student

03.09.2020

Swift

Taylor

American singer-songwriter, actress, activist. 

Student

08.26.2020

Thunberg

Greta

Recipient of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award (2019). Swedish environmental activist who gained popularity as she began the “Climate Strike” in 2018, at age 16. 

Student

03.09.2020

Trudeau

Justin

Canadian Prime Minister – Advocate for equality, human rights, immigration reform, and global change

Student 

02.27.2020

Trump

Donald

Current President of the US.

Student

12.16.2019

Union

Gabrielle

American actress, voice artist, activist, and author. NAACP Award recipient, American Film Academy Award recipient, Susan G. Komen Circle of Promise Ambassador. 

Graduate Student

01.05.2020

Vaynerchuk

Gary

Internet personality, NYTimes best-selling author. He is known for digital marketing & social media. 

Student

09.19.2019

Warren 

Elizabeth

US Senator & 2020 Presidential candidate. 

Student 

10.05.2019

Williams

Vanessa

First African-American to be crowned Miss America 1984, SU Alumna, successful actress. 

Student

02.25.2020