One of the most searched terms in the Critical Mention platform this time of year is “commencement speaker,” but it might just as well be “graduation controversy.”
Colleges and universities do their best to attract newsworthy public figures who can offer words of wisdom to the graduating class while teary-eyed parents listen intently in the audience.
Sometimes, the celebrity status or politics of the commencement speaker overshadows the event itself.
Catholic Cardinal Sean O’Malley has refused to attend Boston College’s graduation because the Jesuit school’s commencement speaker, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, supports legislation to permit abortion.
Lois Lerner, director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service, pulled out of her role as commitment speaker at Western New England University Law School over an IRS scandal swirling over Washington.
Xavier University’s choice of former Cincinnati Bengal Anthony Munoz for a commencement address faces opposition from some politicians and students. They’re upset that Munoz belongs to a conservative group opposed to gay rights.
For the heads of university PR offices, the end of the academic year is hardly a time to coast into summer. Crisis communications plans need to be refreshed and media monitoring tools updated with the names of commencement speakers, ensuring real-time alerts about situations that could impact commencement.
Long before the pomp and circumstance of graduation season, these higher education PR pros also deserve a place at the table of the team choosing next year’s commencement speaker. Thorough research upfront, along with input from the PR team, can save anguish and potential reputational damage in May.