Friday, May 14, 2010

How to get a commencement speaker

Behind the scenes, securing a high-profile commencement speaker often involves a messy, anxiety-filled yearlong courtship, a process one college president likens to making sausage.

Schools face intense competition to land a bold-faced name like Senator Scott Brown, this year’s hot ticket. An acceptance from someone of that stature can send a signal about the institution’s importance, presidents say. ...

Speaker fees, [KEYS Speakers bureau events coordinator Shayran] Samor said, range from $5,000 for someone like former New England Patriot Brian Holloway to $100,000 or more for a Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who also requires a private jet. ...

Several college presidents privately lament the amount of time and energy they must devote to finding a celebrity commencement speaker, calling it a “necessary subplot in academic life.’’

“One of the greatest tension moments of a college president’s life is how the senior class will react when I announce the name of the speaker,’’ one former college president said.

“Very often, what a student wants is different from what an institution wants. And very often when I announced the name of the speaker, students would say: ‘Why would I want to listen to that person? That’s going to be boring.’ ’’ ...

[Another college] president recalled trying to book a head of state one year and only making it past the outer layer of handlers.

“This person had received over 200 requests that year,’’ said the president, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “If you end up in that pile of stationery, you’re dead. You’re cooked.’’
--Tracy Jan, Boston Globe, on why you got a boring commencement speaker

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