Your Break Between Classes

From Oprah Winfrey to the Dalai Lama, Who’s Who at Commencement

Kerry Washington returns to her alma mater, George Washington University.
[Craig Sjodin/ABC] Kerry Washington returns to her alma mater, George Washington University.
Kerry Washington, a fixture and fixer in the nation’s capital as Olivia Pope on ABC’s “Scandal,” will return to speak at her alma mater at this year’s commencement. Who else will be delivering advice to eager graduates? Check out this ongoing list of prominent speakers invited to inspire the class of 2013:

George Washington University

Speaker: Kerry Washington

Claim to Fame: The activist and actor graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts from George Washington and has served on the Board of Trustees. Washington’s has appeared in films ranging from “Save the Last Dance” to “Django Unchained.” She is perhaps best known as the political fixer on ABC’s “Scandal.” President Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Washington is also a member of the V-Counsel, which strives to end violence against women and girls globally.

Previous Speakers: NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (2012), New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2011), First Lady Michelle Obama (2010) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (2009).


Harvard University

Speaker: Oprah Winfrey

Claim to fame: Oprah Winfrey, the first female African-American billionaire will act as Harvard’s 2013 commencement speaker. Winfrey started out working as a co-anchor for WTVF-TV in Nashville and WJZ-TV in Baltimore. It was her move to Chicago in 1984 that landed her as the host of WLS-TV’s morning talk show, which was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show” a year later. Today, she owns a television station, continues with her own series, “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” and partners with the Hearst Corp. for O the Oprah Magazine.

Previous Speakers: CNN host Fareed Zakaria (2012), author J.K. Rowling (2008), Vice President Al Gore (1994)


Howard University

Speaker: President Clinton

Claim to Fame: William Jefferson Clinton was the first Democratic president in six decades to be elected twice – first in 1992 and then in 1996. Under his leadership, the country enjoyed the strongest economy in a generation and the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, including the creation of more than 22 million jobs.

Graduation Details: 10 a.m. Saturday, May 11, on the Upper Quadrangle, better known as “The Yard.”

Previous Speakers: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2012), media mogul Oprah Winfrey (2007), President George Bush (1981).


The Dalai Lama will be the commencement speaker at Tulane University.
[Tulane University/Creative Commons] The Dalai Lama will be the commencement speaker at Tulane University.
Tulane University

Speaker: Dalai Lama

Claim to fame: The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and head of state. At age two, Lhamo Dhondup, then called his birth name, was recognized as the incarnation of Tibet’s former Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. Referred to as “His Holiness,” the current Dalai Lama assumed full power in 1950 after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama.

Previous Speakers: Comedian Ellen DeGeneres (2009), President George H.W. Bush (2006), Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman (2001).


University of Baltimore

Speaker: Bill Cosby

Claim to Fame: Possibly best known as his character Cliff Huxtable on the hit series, “The Cosby Show,” Cosby started his legacy in the 1960s with his coast-to-coast comedy shows, which went on to win him multiple awards. His co-star on “The Cosby Show,” Phylicia Rashãd, is a graduate of Howard University


University of Virginia

Speaker: Stephen Colbert

Claim to Fame: Stephen Colbert is a best-selling author, political satirist, writer and comedian.  Colbert is the host, co writer and executive producer of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” a spinoff of “The Daily Show.” Colbert’s Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series premiered in 2005 and averaged 1.2 million viewers nightly during its first week on the air. In 2011, Colbert and his wife donated funds to the university to create an Arts Scholars program.

Graduation Details: 11 a.m. Saturday, May 1, on The Lawn.

Previous Speakers: Journalist Katie Couric (2012), Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine (2006), U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard H. Baker (1999), former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson (1973)



Speaker: Toni Morrison

Claim to Fame: Toni Morrison is a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and writer. She is a Howard alumna most famous for works such as “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon,” “The Bluest Eye” and “Jazz.” Morrison will speak at Senior Day before the annual commencement and will receive the Nicols-Chancellor’s medal. The medal is one of the university’s highest honors given to those who define the 21st century and exemplify the best qualities of the human spirit.

Senior Day Details: May 9 at Memorial Gymnasium.

Previous speakers: Bangladeshi banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus (2005), Irish singer and political activist Bob Geldof (2008), Pulitzer Prize-winning American biographer and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (2009), former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw (2012).


Yale University

Speaker: Cory Booker

Claim to Fame: The Newark, N.J., mayor, who is in his second term of office, has supported charter schools and reduced the city’s crime rates. He drew attention for random charitable actions such as shoveling a Newark resident’s driveway and rescuing his neighbor from a house fire. Booker plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

Previous speakers: Broadcast journalist Barbara Walters (2012), actor, producer and director Tom Hanks (2011), President Bill Clinton (2010), CNN broadcaster Anderson Cooper (2009).


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