Entertainment events have been dominated by talk of #MeToo, of survivorship and sisterhood, of excellence and equality.
Women are taking their political convictions to the streets with renewed vigor, and a historic number of women are running for office in this year’s midterm elections.
And behind podiums across the country this spring, women from every professional and political stripe will be sharing their stories with graduating college classes.
The array of female speakers reads like a who’s who of political and cultural relevancy:
Cynthia Nixon, actress, activist, LGBT figure and New York gubernatorial candidate, spoke at Helene Fuld College of Nursing earlier this month.
Ava DuVernay, director of this year’s genre-bending adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time,” will speak at Cornell.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute will host a duo of influential STEM women: Margot Lee Shetterly, whose book “Hidden Figures” was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film, and Marcia McNutt, the president of the National Academy of Sciences.
Hillary Clinton will speak at Yale, her alma mater.
Even from those few examples, the power and scope of the female voices is clear: They are influential in every professional field, every political movement and every cultural moment, and that’s a reflection of social change.
According to an AP study, for the first time in at least 20 years, the majority of commencement speakers at top colleges will be women this year.
Sometimes the process takes more than a year
Colleges and universities usually start the process of choosing their graduation far in advance; at the beginning of the academic year if not sooner.
At the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, the process takes more than a year and is handled by the University Council Honorary Degree Committee.
With the help of a student advisory group, students are asked who they would prefer as speaker.
In 2016, this process netted Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway sensation “Hamilton,” and a very au courant choice.
This year, the college will host journalist Andrea Mitchell, who is also a 1967 graduate of the school.
Some rely heavily on students
Some universities, like Ohio State University, rely even more heavily on the student body to choose a speaker.
OSU has an online speaker nomination tool as part of their process, and asks that nominees have name recognition and be “a leader in her or his field or linked to important and compelling issues.”
This year, the University will welcome Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Here’s a sampling of this year’s speakers
Name recognition. Public interest. Social, cultural and political relevancy. If those are typical criteria for commencement speakers, it would make sense that more and more women would be asked to step up for the job.
Here are some more high-profile women that will speak this spring:
- Oprah Winfrey: USC Annenberg
- Joyce Carol Oates, writer: Columbia University School of the Arts
- Queen Latifah, entertainer: Rutgers University
- Anne-Marie Slaughter, political expert: Washington University in St. Louis
- Renée Fleming, soprano: Northwestern University
- Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Mindy Kaling, actress and director: Dartmouth College
- Mayim Bialik, actress and scientist: UCLA
- Abby Wambach, USWNT: Barnard College