The XX Factor

Your Definitive Guide to Totally Unobjectionable Commencement Speaker Picks

Oprah Winfrey speaks during the commencement ceremony at Duke University on May 10, 2009, in Durham, North Carolina.

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Another commencement season, another report about college students protesting their chosen commencement speakers. One of the latest altercations is at Scripps College, where students are debating whether Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, is enough of a “modern female role model” to address the graduating class. 

It’s easy to find something protest-worthy about just about anybody—he didn’t go here! He’s not famous enough! She’s too famous!—except for the people on the list we’ve drawn up below. Commencement committees, the following people have been vetted as entirely unobjectionable and guaranteed to please. You’ll notice that this list shies away from white men, because in this day and age they are inherently objectionable and therefore unworthy of our attention. (Sorry, Matt McGorry!)


Shonda Rhimes. The savior of network television.

Steph Curry. Record-crushing, injury-overcoming basketball MVP who always has a smile on his face to boot.

Lin-Manuel Miranda. The creator of Hamilton, beloved by liberals and Dick Cheneys alike.

Oprah. She’s Oprah.

DJ Khaled. Inspirational force both on and off Snapchat.

Amal Clooney. Acclaimed human rights barrister with a hot wardrobe and somewhat notable husband.

Serena Williams. Winningest woman in tennis, and if you want to criticize her, you’re probably wrong.

Tina Fey. OK, so maybe Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a tad controversial, but … Tina Fey! Funny lady in glasses who makes everyone laugh.

Oscar Isaac. Actor and gift to humanity.

Idris Elba. “Too street” to play James Bond? Not exactly, but maybe just street enough for commencement.


Betty White. Universally admired comic of Golden Girls and Mary Tyler Moore Show fame, 94 and still kicking.

Beverly Cleary. The author of some of your favorite childhood books, from Ramona to Ralph S. Mouse, recently turned 100.

Virginia McLaurin. The 107-year-old danced with the Obamas in the Oval Office, earning herself legions of fans and making us wonder what life lessons she could give us all.

Joanna Goddard. The blogger behind Cup of Jo. A Scripps student suggested Emily Schuman, the Cupcakes and Cashmere blogger, as a potential replacement for Madeleine Albright, but some people find cashmere itchy.


Blue Ivy Carter. Child of Beyoncé and the man who may have cheated on Beyoncé, future world leader, and current 4-year-old.


Jacob Tremblay. We’ll give him a pass for being a white male because he’s only 9.

Will Shortz. We’ll give him a pass for being a white male because everyone loves the New York Times’ crossword editor.

Prince’s hologram. Will get even the stuffiest academics in the audience wanting to do onstage splits.

BB-8 from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So cute, would give heartfelt speech of beeps and boops.

Bao Bao and Bei Bei. The panda cubs who live in the National Zoo.*

An inflatable waving air dancer. These guys are everywhere lately.

A can of LaCroix. Let’s say pamplemousse. (Why is everyone obsessed with this stuff?)

The 100 emoji. Unimpeachable.

*Correction, May 10, 2016: This post originally mispelled Bao Bao.