9 Great Commencement Speakers For College Graduations


Graduations are a time of reflection, celebration, and hope for a bright future. Securing a memorable commencement speaker can help elevate your graduation event and make the day that much more special for graduates, professors, families, and friends.   

To create an exciting and rewarding commencement experience, consider booking a popular commencement speaker. Prominent college graduation speakers will capture your graduate and attendees’ imaginations and propel them into this next phase of their lives with conviction, determination, and inspiration. Keep reading for our list of just a few college and university commencement speakers. 


Here are nine of the top-booked commencement speakers for college graduations we have worked with recently:

  • Chris Gardner
  • Michael Smerconish
  • Jake Tapper
  • Norah O’Donnell
  • General Stanley McChrystal
  • Colonel Nicole Malachowski
  • Shon Hopwood
  • General Michael Hayden
  • Jake Harriman

Keep reading to learn more about each of these inspirational and motivational commencement speakers and browse through their individual speaker profile pages to find out more about their expertise and speaking topics and watch their speaker videos by clicking the links below. 


Inspiration For the Movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, & Former Wall Street Stockbroker and Investor

If you’ve seen the Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominated movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, then you’re familiar with Gardner’s story of going from homelessness to Wall Street. But what you may not know is that in person, he is one of the most warm and impressive speakers on the lecture circuit today. Gardner spoke at University of California, Berkeley’s graduation in 2009 and encouraged graduates to create a new vision of the American Dream for modern times, touching on the importance of appreciating what we have—especially our loved ones—and ignoring any discouragement you may find along your pathway to success. Learn more about Chris Gardner here


Nationally-Syndicated SiriusXM Radio Host, CNN Host & Contributor, Columnist, & New York Times Best-Selling Author

In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally-syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish. He talked to Delaware Valley University for their 2018 commencement, and spoke about our polarized political climate and the need for renewed civic engagement among our nation’s youth, telling them to “be good citizens.” Learn more about Michael Smerconish here


Award-Winning Journalist and CNN Anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent

Jake Tapper is a hugely-influential and award-winning American journalist who currently serves as Chief Washington Correspondent for CNN and the anchor of the network’s weekday television news show The Lead with Jake Tapper and Sunday morning affairs program State of the Union. He delivered the 2018 graduation speech for University of Massachusetts Amherst and urged attendees to resist the temptation to listen only to points of view that reinforce their opinions and to think for themselves, to not worry if they make mistakes or have to start over time and time again, and to embrace your own path. Learn more about Jake Tapper here


Co-Host of CBS This Morning

Norah O’Donnell is the co-host of CBS This Morning. She also contributes to 60 Minutes. O’Donnell joined CBS This Morning in July 2012. Prior to that, she served as CBS News Chief White House Correspondent. She spoke to Kean University and told students to live their values, to allow their setbacks to power them forward, to never stop learning, and to set an example for others—even when no one is watching. Learn more about Norah O'Donnell here.


Former Commander of US & International Forces in Afghanistan, Best-Selling Author, & Co-Founder of the McChrystal Group

A one-of-a-kind commander with a remarkable record of achievement, General McChrystal is the former commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan and the former leader of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s most sensitive forces. He talked to graduates of The Citadel in 2016 and explained that knowledge is power but ignorance has genuine utility—in that not knowing the answers can help spur innovative solutions. He also discussed the importance of humble leadership and courage in character. Learn more about General Stanley McChrystal here


First Woman Thunderbird Pilot, Combat Veteran, & Fighter Squadron Commander

Nicole is America's first female Thunderbird pilot, a combat veteran, and a former fighter squadron commander. She uses stories from her time in combat as a metaphor for the lifelong twists and turns we are all faced with and must overcome A natural storyteller, Nicole inspires audiences to face challenges head on and shares incredible insights in leadership, teamwork, and overcoming adversity. Learn more about Nicole Malachowski here


Associate Law Professor at Georgetown University, Criminal Justice Reform Advocate, and Motivational Speaker

Shon Hopwood’s story is uniquely inspiring in that it is all about second chances and pushing past naysayers and self-doubt. Shon was sentenced to 11 years for robbing five banks in Nebraska before discovering a passion for law inside the prison. He accomplished an extremely rare feat while in prison: two certiorari he prepared with no proper law training for fellow inmates were granted review by the Supreme Court. After his release, and despite being told by 300-400 lawyers he would never join their ranks, he became a licensed attorney and well-known law professor. Shon talks about the importance of setting goals, never doubting your ability to turn things around, and persevering despite all odds. Learn more about Shon Hopwood here


Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency & Former Director of the National Security Agency

General Michael Hayden is the only man to have led the CIA and NSA. As the U.S.’s former top intelligence officer, he is expertly positioned to offer insights on leadership, using your strengths, and acknowledging your weaknesses to get ahead. He spoke to cadets at the Air Force Academy in 2018 about his leadership style and how, even as he climbed to the top of the CIA, he made an effort to get to know everyone who worked for the agency and always strove to do the things that “only he could do." Learn more about General Michael Hayden here


Retired Marine & Founder of Nuru International

Jake Harriman's story will make you want to get up and do something. He’s a former Marine Commander who founded a unique non-profit aimed at ending extreme poverty in war-torn areas. Run by fellow former Special Ops officers, Nuru International worked with the Obama White House to set up a new outpost in Boko Haram territory in Nigeria. Watch Jake deliver the Presidential Leadership Scholars commencement address to an audience that includes Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  Learn more about Jake Harriman here



If you are interested in any of the above names or are looking for a more comprehensive list of commencement speakers, let our sales team help you. Our team is prepared to find the perfect commencement speaker for your college or university. We can track down CEOs or celebrity commencement speakers because we work with different bureaus to make your dream a reality. 

To bring one of these or another graduation and commencement speaker to your event, email contact@lauthorities.com, call 1-800-SPEAKER or live chat with a member of our team right now. 

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