No big-name commencement speaker? No problem at San Diego State.


Jack Beresford is Associate VP, Marketing & Communications at San Diego State University

“Who’s your commencement speaker?”

If you’re in higher ed marketing, you probably get asked that question a few times in May.  That’s when colleges and universities try to outdo each other by bringing big-name speakers to campus.  We don’t do that at San Diego State – and that’s fine by me.

Pretty much since JFK came to campus in 1963, SDSU’s emphasis has been its graduates and their families.  Some of this is practical:  we have eight commencement ceremonies over four days in two different counties – so it wouldn’t be fair to showcase a superstar speaker at one event but not another.  But I like to think the primary reason we don’t go for big names is because our graduates are really the stars of the show.

And what a show it is!  It’s hard to attend SDSU’s commencement ceremonies without becoming at least a little emotional.  In an era of reality TV, Facebook and Twitter – when people share so much of their personal lives in very public ways – graduation is still an authentic and meaningful event.  Each of our graduates has overcome challenges for the chance to walk across the stage and hear his/her name called.  Many of our grads are first-generation students.  Multiply each individual’s story by 10,492 – the number of SDSU graduates this year – and you get a sense of what commencement weekend is all about.

Those 10,492 Aztecs include students like Stephanie Pena and 41 others from SDSU’s first class of “Compact Scholars” – students from Sweetwater Union High School District who made a commitment as far back as 7th grade to work hard and meet high academic benchmarks to earn guaranteed admission to SDSU.

The 10,492 include Reggie Blaylock, director of SDSU’s Educational Opportunity Program, and one of 25 earning the first independent educational doctorates (Ed.D.)s to be awarded in the history of the CSU.

The 10,492 includes 18 Japanese Americans who were San Diego State College students at the start of World War II and who were pulled from school and sent to internment camps.  These Nisei Graduates and their families will receive long-overdue recognition and official acknowledgment that they are Aztecs for Life.

And it includes two very special people who will receive honorary doctorates:  Coach Don Coryell and Ambassador Charles Hostler – two distinguished gentlemen who are the embodiment of the Aztec Spirit.

Thanks Oprah but we’re all good.

3 Comments

Filed under Alumni, College Community, Events, University News

3 responses to “No big-name commencement speaker? No problem at San Diego State.

  1. Well said! When I coordinated Commencement many years ago, I always got tears in my eyes when Pomp and Circumstance played as the graduates filed into the arena with big grins on their faces. They were looking around, trying to find their family, so excited to be graduating. Besides, all those students want to do is get their diploma, turn their tassel, and throw the cap in the air. That’s what Commencement is all about – not an expensive speaker.

  2. jackb

    Thanks Leah! I’m a self-professed “commencement junkie” and it’s second only to open house as my favorite day of the year at SDSU! Congrats to each of our grads and their families!

  3. Tammy Carpowich

    I too, get tears in my eyes every time I hear Pomp and Circumstance. I definitely think it’s about the graduates and not the speaker.

    I can think of one time the speaker blew me away, but it wasn’t because of her price tag. When my roommate graduated from SDSU, the speaker was SDSU alumna and 1994 National Teacher of the Year, Sandy McBrayer.

    Sandy was (and still is) an inspirational speaker. And that was amazing. But what was even more impressive was that she got her start at SDSU. She showed them that anything is possible. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear her speak, and I know it made a difference to the graduates that day.

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