Few occasions in life are more idyllic than college graduation. Steeped 
in ceremony, it is the moment of triumph after years of work, a time for 
parents to beam proudly and gowned students to receive their hard-earned 
However, graduates aren’t the only ones earning something on 
commencement day. Some colleges and universities are paying exorbitant 
fees — not just expenses — for graduation speakers. Public speaking has 
been big business for years, and finding a great speaker for 
commencement day is a competitive business, particularly for a school 
burnishing its image and trying to boost fundraising. Rutgers 
University, which is planning a bigger ceremony this year, recently 
announced that it will pay Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison 
$30,000 to be the commencement speaker. “An honorarium was required to 
attract a stellar speaker of Ms. Morrison’s caliber,” said Rutgers 
spokesman Ken Branson. 
Morrison is only one example. In 2006, CBS news star Katie Couric got 
$115,000 to speak at the University of Oklahoma’s ceremony — although 
she did donate it to a cancer center at the University of Virginia in 
honor of her late sister. And Rudy Giuliani’s 2005 address at High Point 
University in North Carolina reportedly cost the school $75,000 in a 
contribution to a foundation of his choice. 
Some speakers who command astronomical fees will discount them for 
commencement speeches — it’s possible that Morrison usually gets much 
more than $30,000 — or waive them. 
Bill Clinton, who was scheduled to speak at UCLA in 2008 before 
canceling because of the university’s dispute with a union, did not 
request a fee. Nor would UCLA have offered one. (It never pays.) Neither 
President Obama nor the first lady are paid for their commencement 
addresses. This year, the president will deliver the address at Miami 
Dade College’s North Campus, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the public 
high school that wins the White House’s Race to the Top Commencement 
Challenge. Michelle Obama will speak at Spelman College, the University 
of Northern Iowa and the high school that serves children of members of 
the military on the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. 
We know it’s a struggle for lesser-known schools to find a speaker a cut 
above a dreary dean talking in cliches about the challenges to come. But 
it’s disappointing to see a tradition so wrapped in idealism become yet 
another vehicle for commercialism. 
A commencement address is not a gig at a corporate retreat. Even though 
it takes time and effort to craft a good speech, it is honor enough to 
be chosen to impart some words of inspiration to newly minted graduates. 
We’d like to see influential figures go out of their way to speak at 
smaller institutions for free. Commencement day is one time when 
accomplished people should share the wealth — not increase their own. 
Editorial by the Los Angeles Times distributed by McClatchy-Tribune 
Information Services.