College Commencements: 10 Controversial Speakers

It's the time a year when colleges embarrass themselves by picking controversial commencement speakers.
Rutger University made the news recently not because it selected a controversial commencement speaker, its pick is author Toni Morrison, but because the university recently paid Snooki more money for her appearance at the school.

The Jersey Shore celebrity, who is best known for getting drunk and her love of tanning booths, pocketed $32,000 to talk about such things as her hair and fist pump. Morrison, a Nobel Prize winner, will earn $2,000 less for her commencement speech.

10 Controversial Commencement Speakers
Just in time to kick off the college commencement season, here are 10 notably controversial speakers:

Greg Mortenson, Fontbonne College

I feel sorry for Fontbonne College in St. Louis, which invited Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea, to be the commencement speaker in May before a 60 Minutes investigation on the philanthropist and adventurer was aired this month. A 60 Minutes investigation suggested that some aspects of his bestselling book may be false. Fontbonne is trying to decide whether to disinvite Mortenson.

Anna Quindlen, Villanova University

Protest from abortion opponents prompted the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author to withdraw as commencement speaker in 1999, but she later published a tiny book, A Short Guide to a Happy Life, that essentially contained her Villanova speech. I love this book and I've given it as a gift many times.

James Franco, UCLA

Some students griped about the selection of James Franco as UCLA's commencement speaker in 2009 because he was a student at the school. Franco withdrew as speaker, explaining he had other commitments and he later filmed an hysterical UCLA commencement speech spoof.

Dick Cheney, Brigham Young University

While BYU is a conservative campus owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, some students and professors worried that Dick Cheney's selection in 2007 would serve as a school endorsement of his conservative political views. Some students held an alternative commencement with Ralph Nader as a speaker.

Clarence Thomas, University of Georgia

Some students protested the selection of this U.S. Supreme Court justice in 2008 because of the scandal that revolved around his selection to the bench. Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment during the confirmation hearings.

Jerry Springer, Northwestern University's Law School

Jerry Springer is the television talk show host who serves up paternity tests, studio brawls, strippers, prostitutes and more on his program. Gosh, why would law school grads in the Class of 2008 have been upset about that?

Barack Obama, University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame's commencement pick in 2009 was controversial because of the president's stance on abortion. Tens of thousands of people signed an online petition requesting the school change its mind. During the same year, Arizona State created a controversy for not giving Obama, its commencement guest, an honorary degree, but the school explained that "his body of work is yet to come."

Jamie Dimon, Syracuse University

Plenty of students were outraged when the university's chancellor selected Jamie Dimon, the chairman and chief executive officer of JP Morgan Chase & Co., as the 2010 speaker. With the country still trying to dig itself out of the financial fiasco caused by the nation's banks, you can appreciate why.

Salman Rushdie, Nova Southeastern University

Muslim students protested the celebrated author's commencement invitation in 2006 presumably due to his controversial book, The Satanic Verses. Muslim critics considered the book, which was released in 1988, blasphemy against Islam and Rushdie had to go into hiding for fear he woud be killed.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, Evergreen State College

The death row inmate taped Evergreen State's commencement speech in 1999 from his jail cell. Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of shooting a police officer, but he has spent years fighting for his innocence.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Commencement speaker image by NVS_Inc CC 2.0.