College grads get celebrity speeches

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The Independent Culture

With the school year drawing to a close, an increasing number of universities are inviting celebrities to attend graduation ceremonies to address the students with the traditional commencement speech before they receive their diploma.

Though the task traditionally went to alumni, often the speeches were uninspiring and not memorable. So, universities are increasingly requesting an actor, musician, business leader or politician provide the keynote address to the graduating class.

Pratt Institute, a New York art college, asked singer/songwriter Patti Smith to address the Class of 2010. Smith and film director Steven Soderbergh, who was present, are both college drop-outs, but received an Honorary Degree from Pratt as a Doctor of Fine Arts at the event on the Radio City Music Hall stage.

Words of wisdom for graduates were offered this year by Meryl Streep at Barnard College; Danny Glover ( Death at a Funeral) spoke at Utah State University, and Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean addressed Western Connecticut State. Alec Baldwin ( It's Complicated, 30 Rock) provided the commencement speech for New York University (his alma mater) at Yankee Stadium.

Actress and filmmaker Isabella Rossellini (who starred in Blue Velvet) spoke at the Savannah College of Art and Design recently saying, "Art, inspiration, and the best ideas come from doing and not merely thinking or fearing. Don't discriminate. Just do."

Past commencement speeches by famous people include a diverse group from U2's Bono encouraging grads of the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 to make the world a better place to Apple's Steve Jobs at Stanford University.

President Barack Obama at Ivy League University Wesleyan in 2008 urged graduates to make a difference in their lives by making a difference in the lives of others.

Not all speakers are as inspiring - some rely on humor, such as comedian/actor Will Ferrell who addressed Harvard, where Bill Jobs, another college drop-out, spoke in 2007 and J.K. Rowling appeared in 2008.

Author John Grisham, at the University of North Carolina, said: "Of course, the future is yours. Who else would want it? Take it. You can have it. We've had our chance and made a royal mess of things. I'm sure you can do better. I expect you will."