GRADUATION 2021: Sitting presidents are sought-after commencement speakers

Published 4:36 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2021

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Tradition is part and parcel of graduation ceremonies. The playing of “Pomp and Circumstance” and the tossing of graduation caps are two instantly recognizable commencement ceremony traditions.

Perhaps no tradition inspires more curiosity than who will deliver the commencement speech. Nobel Prize winners, Hollywood celebrities and noted authors are just some of the recognizable faces that have delivered commencement speeches over the years.

The distinguished list of commencement speakers also has its fair share of statesmen, including sitting U.S. presidents, who are embracing the tradition more and more.

According to the American Presidency Project, prior to President George H.W. Bush, sitting presidents typically delivered one or two commencement speeches per year.

However, George H.W. Bush broke from that tradition in a big way, delivering 23 such speeches in his four years in office. To put that in perspective, President Bush’s predecessor, President Ronald Reagan, gave 11 commencement speeches despite spending eight years in office between 1980 and 1988.

Without a doubt, President George H.W. Bush started a trend, as each of his successors from 1993 through 2016 delivered at least 23 commencement speeches during their terms.

Notably, each of those successors, including his son, President George W. Bush (23 speeches) as well as President Bill Clinton (24) and President Barack Obama (24), served two terms as president.

So in terms of commencement speeches given per year, President George H.W. Bush was in a league of his own.