8 Movie Characters We Want as Graduation Speakers

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It’s a bittersweet time for the Class of 2014. As students say farewell to their friends at graduation, they also look ahead to the possibilities that are available to them with an education under their belt and a degree in hand.

Between graduation parties, emotional goodbyes, and sending out job applications, the commencement ceremony itself is more of a formality than anything else. Those receiving degrees would rather just pick them up and be on their way (trust me), but the ceremony is still a big part of the process. One of the staples of any school’s graduation is inviting someone to speak to the outgoing class, providing messages and words of wisdom. Unfortunately, in the students’ eyes, the traditional commencement speech is largely unremarkable and many struggle to even remember who spoke – yet alone what they said.

But what if colleges got creative and decided to invite famous movie characters to speak at their graduation? As many educational institutions gear up for their big days, we started thinking about movie characters that would be great commencement speakers and compiled the following list. Using a combination of the Princeton Review and U.S. News college rankings, we’ve assigned each character to a specific “type” of school that they’d be most appropriate for.


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9 University of Iowa – Tony Stark

Muppet Guest RDJ

"I just finally know what I have to do. And I know in my heart it's right."

As the top-rated party school in America, the students at the University of Iowa certainly know how to have a good time. Living large as a celebrity and a superhero, Tony Stark is all about enjoying himself and making life as fun as possible. With his rock star persona and charisma in spades; Stark would certainly liven up the festivities with a grandiose and entertaining speech.

However, Stark has also seen the darker side of the world. Using his experience as a prisoner in Afghanistan, he could open the students’ eyes with a powerful anecdote about the importance of balancing the party with a more serious perspective. As a billionaire playboy, he turned a blind eye to under-the-table deals, a choice that almost cost him his life. While most college graduates won’t have to endure what Tony did, the overall message could still be applicable. Life doesn’t have to be all work, but you have to be aware of your surroundings and mature or you could get into trouble.


8 Harvard Business School – Jordan Belfort

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

"Sell me this pen."

Business is all about selling something to an audience and entrepreneurs who do that well become rich and successful. As someone who would choose to be a rich man every time, The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort is an unconventional, yet ideal, choice for instilling dedication for the quest for money in new business hopefuls.

For all the illegality of his actions, Belfort did possess some redeeming qualities. Through all the drug abuse and rat holes, he was committed to achieving a goal and that was what made a great leader that attracted a very large following. Belfort knew how to sell anything from a penny stock to a pen all in the name of making a better life for himself. Not everyone will have the same mindset as a white-collar criminal, but the gist of stopping at nothing to accomplish your dreams is something all college graduates should hear. If Belfort’s speech were anything like his rallying cries to his stockbrokers, it’d be hard to not get swept up.

Plus, we’re all for anything that has the potential to end with a graduating class doing the chest thump in unison as they receive their degrees.


7 Yale Fine Arts – Lester Bangs

Commencement Speakers Lester Bangs

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."

Students who attend a fine arts school specialize in studying graphic design, artwork (paintings, sketches), or visual communications such as film (among other concentrations). The degree is all about creating something and staying true to your vision no matter how difficult it gets. It may be easy to “sell out” for the big bucks, but artists are usually more celebrated when they don’t compromise their vision and stay true to their beliefs.

Someone who understood this all too well was Lester Bangs, the famous rock critic brought to life by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. Tutoring young William Miller in the art of being a great journalist, he stresses the importance of being “honest and unmerciful.” Warning Miller about the pitfalls of getting reeled in to the typical rock and roll lifestyle, Bangs could twist this advice to work for any aspiring artist. Don’t worry about what others say or do to try to win your affection, just keep it real and build your reputation by believing in your views.


6 Virginia Tech – Andy Dufresne

"Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And a good thing never dies."

They say college is the best four years of your life, and apparently the students at Virginia Tech agree since the Princeton Review ranked this school at the top of the list titled “Their Students Love This College.” So as the outgoing seniors depart the campus one final time, things may be leaning more towards the “bitter” side of bittersweet as graduates contemplate the scary outskirts of the real world. Potentially full of fear and sad about leaving a place they enjoy, the class would need someone to inspire them with a powerful message of hope.

Who better to handle that task than Andy Dufresne? As an inmate in Shawshank prison, Andy knew how to make the best out of an awful situation, becoming a beacon of light that others could look up to. Using his time in an actual penitentiary as a metaphor for the perceived “jail” of the workforce, Andy would be able to encourage students to grab life by the horns and enjoy their time in this world. Urging them to never give up faith no matter how dire things get, we doubt many would complain about the monotony of a 9-to-5 job in an office if they had the right mindset.


5 Princeton – Jules Winnfield

Commencement Speakers Jules

"I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd."

As the top rated university in the country (according to the U.S. News rankings), the academic intellectuals at Princeton would need to be able to connect to a speaker with a similarly sharp mind. Quentin Tarantino’s famous philosophizing hit man could do the trick, as he’d be able to lend his unique perspective on life to young people that may not know what to make of the world just yet.

Considering the school gets him during his “transitional period,” Jules would be able to give an introspective speech about finding your place on Earth and fulfilling your destiny. He was obviously transformed by his experiences in Pulp Fiction, realizing that instead of blasting people away, he could do his part to help make society better. We’re guessing that most Princeton grads won’t opt to walk the Earth like Caine, but the idea of being “the shepherd” and using your talents to make the world a great place could be influential in pushing students on the right track to live a full life.


4 Notre Dame – Jerry Maguire

Best Non Athletes Jerry Maguire

"Help me help you."

Based on the Princeton Review ratings, Notre Dame is the top place where the students “pack the stadiums,” meaning that sports is fully ingrained in the culture. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, considering that the iconic football program has achieved a national following. As so many of the graduating class will no doubt have athletics on the mind, the school would be smart to invite a leading figure in athletics to speak at their ceremony.

He’s just an agent, but Jerry Maguire would certainly fit the bill. Well-spoken and charismatic, he could use words from his famous memo to instill values of honesty and determination in the outgoing students. Maguire could spin the passion the seniors have for sports (and most likely, their chosen fields of study) to highlight the importance of loving all aspects of life equally. As his marriage almost disintegrated due to an over-commitment to his job, Maguire would be able to tell people that everything around you – whether it’s work, loved ones, or even hobbies – is vital to “completing” you and ensuring you’re happy.


3 Stanford Law – Marge Gunderson

Commencement Speakers Marge Gunderson

"There's more to life than a little money, you know."

No matter which type of law aspiring lawyers wish to practice when they pass the bar exam, the one thing they should all have in common is a willingness to fight for doing what’s right. That means stopping at nothing to make sure justice is served. When it comes to movie characters that represent those virtues, there aren’t many better examples than Marge Gunderson, the lovable and hardworking police officer from the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning Fargo.

Investigating the most unusual case of Jerry Lundegaard, Carl Showalter, Gaerar Grimsrud, and a kidnapped wife, Gunderson displayed perseverance, refusing to allow dead leads and uncooperative interviewees put an end to her quest. Using a combination of her smarts and her instincts, she was able to solve the crime and put two of the three perpetrators behind bars (poor Carl got the wood chipper instead). Using that story as a launching point, this good cop would be able to help law students understand what it takes to do the right thing and why hard work always pays off in the end. Would Marge provide some amusing anecdotes to make her point? You betcha!


2 George Washington University – Dave Kovic

Commencement Speakers Dave Kovic

"I ought to care more about what's right than popular."

As the college with the most “politically active” students, there are quite a number of hopeful governors, senators, and presidents studying hard in the halls of George Washington University. In an effort the help all the Young Democrats and College Republicans avoid following the road that leads to corruption, it’d be wise for the school to bring in one of the few honest people working in the field. There are plenty of film politicians to choose from, but one of the best would be Dave Kovic, a presidential impersonator who has to step into the actual role when President Mitchell suffers a stroke.

Running a temp agency to help people get jobs, Dave already has the kind-heartedness that all political figures should have. When he is brought into office, he takes charge with an enthusiastic attitude for getting things accomplished. Balancing the budget and introducing programs to fund homeless shelters, Dave is able to put the interests of the people at the top of his priority list. Caring about others and putting his personal interests aside, he would serve as a great role model for the politically minded with an inspiring message that if an average Joe like him could do it, anyone can.


1 Honorable Mentions

Commencement Speakers Gandalf

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive. Here are a few honorable mentions that just missed the cut.

  • Daniel Kaffee: His search for the truth is something all law students should hear.
  • Tyler Durden: He has the stage presence and philosophies to give a great speech, but his trademark “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” line might scare some college officials off.
  • Harvey Dent: As long as a school got him before his Two-Face transformation, Gotham’s White Knight could parlay his popularity into words that will stay with like-minded aspiring politicians.
  • Sherlock Holmes: As one with a great mind, he’d be able to encourage students to use their intelligence for the greater good.
  • Gandalf: Any character that fits the “wise, old mentor” archetype would be a solid choice, but the famous wizard’s passages of wisdom could be applicable to anybody looking for a fresh start after school. Pictured above.

Be sure to name your favorite choices for movie character commencement speakers in the comments below and if you’re graduating this year, congratulations!

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.

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