Ivies snub conservatives at commencement for third straight year

Sandor Farkas
Collegiate Network Fellow

  • The Ivy League is set for yet another commencement season without a conservative keynote speaker, while at least six prominent liberals are scheduled to speak at the elite institutions.
  • While Dartmouth College occasionally breaks from the tradition, most recently in 2015, Brown University has not hosted a conservative commencement speaker for more than 20 years.
  • In keeping with tradition, none of the eight Ivy League universities has invited a conservative to deliver the keynote speech to this year’s graduates.

    In fact, the most recent conservative graduation speaker at any Ivy League school was David Brooks, who delivered the 2015 commencement address at Dartmouth College. Other Ivies, though, have not had a conservative speaker for over a decade, and Campus Reform was unable to find a single conservative who spoke at Brown University’s baccalaureate service in the last 20 years.

    The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprised of eight elite institutions: Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Columbia University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, and Cornell University. All except Cornell possess charters pre-dating American independence.

    [RELATED: Conservatives notably absent at Ivy League commencements]

    While Harvard, Dartmouth, and UPenn invite external speakers to their commencement ceremony, the other five schools feature external speakers at ancillary events. Students at Yale, Princeton, and Columbia welcome an outside speaker to their respective Class Days, Cornell has a speaker at convocation, and Brown’s headline speaker delivers an address at its baccalaureate ceremony.

    This year’s lineup features several prominent liberals, including three Democrat politicians: U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis at Harvard, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Yale, and Senator Cory Booker at Princeton

    In addition, left-leaning NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell is speaking at the University of Pennsylvania, and Brown is giving the honor to its outgoing legal counsel, Beverly Ledbetter, who has argued against the federal travel ban and advocated for the preservation of DACA.

    Columbia will host film producer and alumna Dede Gardner, and Cornell announced its selection of director Ava DuVernay, who backed Hillary Clinton.  Actress Mindy Kaling—who once said she found it “bewildering” that someone would think she is a Republican—is giving the commencement address at Dartmouth. 

    This year’s selection of left-wing politicians and public figures is not unique. Outspoken progressive Booker has spoken at four of the eight schools since 2013, former Vice President Joe Biden has spoken at three of them in the same time frame, and controversial former UN Ambassador Samantha Power has spoken twice.

    Left-leaning entertainers are just as popular: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Steven Spielberg, and Oprah Winfrey have all addressed graduates of Ivy League universities in the last six years, as have Mark Zuckerberg, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and Governor Deval Patrick.

    [RELATED: Dems dominate commencement despite electoral defeat]

    According to Campus Reform’s research, Dartmouth has invited the most balanced group of speakers of any Ivy League school over the last six years, hosting moderate journalist Jake Tapper in 2017 and conservative journalist David Brooks in 2015.

    Harvard’s latest conservative speaker, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, spoke in 2014. Bloomberg was also Cornell’s most recent conservative convocation speaker in 2012. 

    The University of Pennsylvania invited Republican politician Jon Huntsman in 2010, Yale brought in writer Christopher Buckley in 2009, and Columbia featured Senator John McCain in 2006. Princeton’s last conservative speaker was Republican Secretary of State and two-time White House Chief of Staff James Baker, who addressed graduates in 2002.

    Brown, on the other hand, has proven even more averse to conservative commencement speakers than the rest of the Ivy League, going more than 20 years without a single conservative figure.

    [RELATED: Notre shame: School may break tradition by not inviting Trump]

    Campus Reform investigated every Brown baccalaureate speaker since 1996, the earliest year they are recorded in Brown’s online news bureau, and could not find a single American conservative. Only two speakers even came close: Chinese dissident Xu Wenli in 2003 and Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan IV in 1996. 

    While Brown has not revealed this year’s speaker, last year’s choice of actor and rapper Daveen Diggs does not bode well for conservatives. In a 2016 video, Diggs called then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump a “racist, misogynist, Cheeto-dusted human trash fire.”

    Campus Reform is currently conducting a survey of the nation’s commencement speakers, and will release more information as additional details become available.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @SFarkas48





    Sandor Farkas

    Sandor Farkas

    Collegiate Network Fellow
    Sandor Farkas is a Collegiate Network Fellow at Campus Reform. Prior to starting this fellowship, he was a Tikvah Fellow. Farkas earned a degree in history from Dartmouth College, where he was editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review. Farkas also serves as an officer in the Virginia Army National Guard.
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