Commentaries
North Carolina Bucks the Trend

While commencement speakers across the nation talked politics, North Carolina’s choices were more restrained.

By Jenna A. Robinson

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May 27, 2010

Every year, thousands of new graduates don caps and gowns to listen as academics and celebrities dispense sage advice, inspirational words—or, in some cases—dire predictions for the future. (The latter occurred when former vice president Al Gore listed what he views as the grim consequences of global warming at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.)

Last year, Jane Shaw observed that most of the invited speakers in North Carolina were establishment Democrats, treating new graduates to one last dose of liberal talking points before they left campus for good.

In most of the country, this year is no different. In an examination of commencement speakers at the “top” 100 schools in the nation, Young America’s Foundation found that liberal speakers dominated. In fact, the organization reports that Obama administration officials spoke nine times this year alone—among them, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Director of Office Management Peter Orszag, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the president himself. In contrast, during the Bush administration’s entire eight years, administration officials spoke at only 14 commencements, according to the report.

But North Carolina seems to be bucking the trend. Of course, a few Democratic politicians slipped through, and in a state controlled by the Democratic party, that’s not surprising. For the most part, however, North Carolina universities invited business leaders, authors, and academics to take the stage.

Here are examples from around the state (in alphabetical order by college):

  • Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway Phil Francis spoke at Appalachian State University.
  • Gov. Bev Perdue addressed Bennett College graduates.
  • Davidson’s president, Dr. Thomas W. Ross, spoke at Davidson.
  • Economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mohammad Yunus spoke at Duke University.
  • UNC President Erskine Bowles spoke at East Carolina University.
  • Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) spoke at Elizabeth City State University.
  • Award-winning filmmaker Laith-al-Majali, producer of the Jordanian film Captain Abu Raed, was the speaker at Elon University.
  • Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, spoke at Fayetteville State University.
  • Students at Guilford College heard a keynote address from alumnus Rick Goings, chairman and CEO of Tupperware Brands Corporation.
  • Alumna Gretchen Holt Witt, ’89, a pediatric cancer activist, spoke at Meredith College.
  • Donna A. James, managing director of Lardon & Associates LLC. and former president of Nationwide Strategic Investments, spoke at NC A&T University.
  • Tom Joyner, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and longtime supporter of historically black universities, spoke at North Carolina Central University.
  • Television host and journalist Charlie Rose addressed graduates at NC State.
  • N.C. Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard spoke at Peace College.
  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin spoke at the College at Southeastern, as he does every year.
  • Civil rights leader, musician, and scholar Bernice Johnson Reagon spoke at UNC Asheville.
  • John Grisham, author of such crime thrillers as The Pelican Brief and The Firm, spoke at UNC-Chapel Hill, where his daughter is an alumna.
  • At UNC Charlotte, speakers included Chancellor Philip L. DuBois and several graduating students.
  • Mystery novelist Margaret Maron spoke at UNC Greensboro.
  • James W. Oxendine, a retired senior Superior Court judge from Georgia, spoke at UNC Pembroke.
  • Comedian and actor Bill Cosby delivered the commencement address at Shaw University.
  • Actor and director Peter Bogdanovich and screenwriter Angus MacLachlan spoke at the UNC School of the Arts.
  • American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault spoke at Wake Forest University.
  • Western Carolina University held a trio of commencement ceremonies, in which speakers included Chancellor John W. Bardo and graduate student Jordan Parsons.
  • Former president of Spelman College Donald Stewart (who is also a former president of the College Board) spoke at Winston-Salem State University.

Each person undoubtedly brought a distinctive viewpoint to his or her speech, and some of the talks may have been political. But the dominance of politicians from a single party was not in evidence this year in North Carolina.

 


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