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;


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.


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 2021

Last  First Identifying Information Affiliation Date Submitted 
Bush George W. Former US President Student 02.29.2020
Biden  Joe  Former Vice President of the US. 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
Chast Roz Staff Cartoonist for the NYTimes. Alum & Mother of 2020 Graduate 09.20.2019
Colbert  Stephen Comedian & political commentator. Student  10.22.2019
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 Alumni, American Football Coach – led teams to the Superbowl twice in his career. Parent of current students  01.21.2020
DiCaprio Leonardo Actor, environmentalist, producer.  Student 10.22.2019
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
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  Congressional Representative for the 14th District.  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). “To encourage the free thinking of African Americans.” Student 12.16.2019
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
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

2021 Commencement Speaker Suggestions [PDF]