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Making History


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A Stroll Down Memory Lane with Some Prior Penn Commencement Speakers
May 13, 2008, Volume 54, No. 33

Annan Heaney McCain Tutu Lehrer Clinton Brokaw

As the University of Pennsylvania prepares for the upcoming Commencement—the 252nd Commencement—which will take place on Monday, May 19 with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as this year’s Commencement Speaker, it seems fitting to note who has preceded him in prior years. Over the past decades, speakers have come from around the world—Gustave Adolf, Crown Prince of Sweden in 1938, and right here at Penn—Josiah Penniman, Provost, in 1939 and Martin Meyerson, Penn president-designate in 1970. Penn has also heard from many presidents of other universities and colleges; as well as some United States’ presidents and first ladies, not to mention presidential candidates. Penn’s collection also includes a congresswomen, a columnist, a conductor, a chancellor, a chief of medicine, chairman of a corporation, a high commissioner, chief justice and a comedian. Then there were the educators, entertainers, editors and everyone else who entralled the audience.

Penn Commencement Quiz

To see if you are eligible to be an honorary member of the 25-Year Club, answer the questions. After checking your answers, check out the links to the issues from the past years’ commencement coverage in Almanac, including many speeches, and a list on the Archives site of all Penn commencement speakers since 1938. 

1. Which Pulitzer Prize recipient gave the Commencement address when Tennessee Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, had to withdraw due to sudden illness?

a. Harper Lee, American novelist, author of To Kill a Mockingbird
b. Garry Trudeau, cartoonist and creator of Doonesbury
c. Ellen Goodman, syndicated columnist
d. Anthony Hecht, American poet

(scroll down or click here for the Answer)

2. Which civil rights leader gave a Commencement address at Penn?

a. Bobby Seale, founder, Black Panthers
b. Stokely Carmichael, leader of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
c. Coretta Scott King, author and activist
d. Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., president of the National Urban League


3. Which Commencement speaker did not receive an honorary degree the year he spoke because he received one from Penn previously?

a. Bill Cosby, comedian, actor, author
b. Donald T. Regan, President Reagan’s chief-of-staff
c. Sol Linowitz, former ambassador to the Organization of American States
d. All of the above


4. Which Philadelphia mayor gave a Commencement speech at Penn?

a. Wilson Goode
b. William Green
c. Edward Rendell
d. Frank Rizzo


5. Which First Lady of the US was the first to be a Commencement Speaker at Penn?

a. Laura Bush
b. Nancy Reagan
c. Barbara Bush
d. Hillary Rodham Clinton


6. Which newsman gave the speech the year that the temperature soared to 96 degrees (perhaps honoring that year’s Class of ’96) and said the following? “I am here as a journalist, but I am also here as a husband, a father and a citizen. That is the four-part harmony of my life, and they are complementary parts: I am  incomplete if any one is missing.”

a. Tom Brokaw, NBC News anchor
b. Mike Wallace, co-editor of CBS’s award winning Sixty Minutes
c. Ted Koppel, ABC News anchor
d. Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer


7. Which US President gave the Commencement speech at Penn when both he and his wife were honored with honorary degrees?

a. Franklin D. Roosevelt
b. Gerald R. Ford
c. Jimmy Carter
d. Bill Clinton


8. Which governor of Pennsylvania has been a Commencement speaker at Penn?

a. Raymond P. Shafer
b. William W. Scranton
c. Milton J. Shapp
d. All of the above


9. Which Nobel Laureate gave the Penn Commencement speech the first year the ceremony was held outdoors on Franklin Field?

a. Seamus Heaney, poet, critic and translator, Nobel Prize in Literature
b. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize
c. Dr. Michael Brown, Nobel Prize in Medicine
d. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, Nobel Peace Prize


10. Which Penn Commencement speaker said this: “The invitation to give this commencement address is a great honor for someone who graduated fifth from the bottom in the United States Naval Academy Class of 1958. To stand here in full academic regalia, and address an audience of distinguished academics and their learned students has reaffirmed my long held faith that in America anything is possible.”?

a. Capt. Richard A. Kern, Chief of Medicine, US Naval Hospital
b. Thomas K. Finletter, Secretary of the Air Force
c. US Senator John McCain
d. Robert Dechert, General Counsel, Department of Defense


Quiz Answers

1. b. Garry Trudeau spoke at Penn’s 223rd Commencement; he was originally scheduled to give the Baccalaureate address that year (1979).

Ellen Goodman gave the address in 1983 in the Civic Center.

2. d. Vernon Jordan, Jr. gave the address at the Civic Center in 1981, the year his daughter graduated from Penn.

3. d. Bill Cosby received an honorary degree in 1990 and gave the address in 1997;

Donald Regan, the former Penn Trustee chair, received an honorary degree in 1972 and was the speaker in 1985; Sol Linowitz received an LD in 1980 and gave the address in 1982.

4. a. Wilson Goode, who took his MA in government administration from Wharton in 1968, gave the Commencement speech in 1984.

5. c. Barbara Bush spoke in 1990, bringing the Secret Service who hadn’t been here since President Gerald Ford was the speaker in 1975.

Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the address in 1993.

6. a. Tom Brokaw spoke in 1996.

Mike Wallace spoke here in 1989; Ted Koppel in 1991; and Jim Lehrer in 2002.

7. c. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, co-founders of the Carter Center in Atlanta both received honorary degrees in 1998.

FDR gave the address in 1940 and Gerald Ford in 1975.

8. d. Three of the Commonwealth’s governors have been Commencement speakers at Penn. Shafer in 1967; Scranton in 1964; Shapp in 1974. 

9. c. Dr. Michael Brown, Penn alumnus, gave the speech in 1986.

The other three Laureates also gave Commencement addresses at Penn as well: Seamus Heaney in 2000; Desmond Tutu in 2003 and Kofi Annan in 2005.

10. c. Senator John McCain opened with those lines when he spoke to the Class of 2001.

The others also gave Commencement speeches here: Kern in 1944; Finletter in 1950; and Dechert in 1958.


For the complete list of Penn's Commencement Speakers, click here.


Almanac - May 13, 2008, Volume 54, No. 33