Paul Caron has been compiling a list of law school commencement speakers for the May 2009 cycle. Not suprisingly, law schools tap a few attractive wells for their speakers. For example, ten schools selected a current (or recently defeated) justice of a state Supreme Court (or comparable court). Fourteen opted for a Federal judge. Eight lured a current or former U.S. Senator or Representative. There are governors, mayors (and former mayors), law firm partners, pundits and reporters (Nina Totenberg, Mark Shields, and David Gergen), sportscasters (Cris Collinsworth), current and former SG's and AG's, and even a pair of Archbishops. And there in that midst is Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the recently created (and not yet open) UC Irvine Law School, speaking to the graduates of the recently renamed Berkeley Law School.
Deciding on a graduation speaker is actually pretty complicated, because you're attending to very different audiences. Faculty and administration probably think most about having an interesting speaker that offers high prestige in the academic world. (That assumes that anyone notices who is speaking where.) Students want a fun speaker. Nobody has ever forgotten Jon Stewart's commencement speech at William & Mary and I can confidently tell you that most of today's graduates would prefer either Stewart or Stephen Colbert over all alternatives. (Markets work: their speaking fees match the strength and breadth of these preferences.) And parents probably don't care a lot, as long as the speaker is either brief or interesting - with the one exception being someone really famous, like the President.
I will say that Santa Clara has done about as well as anyone on the passion front. Bryan Stevenson, head of the Equal Justice Initiative (in Montgomery, Alabama), is an amazing, energizing speaker. And then there's BU. Maybe they'll be lucky enough to hear this.
Image: Benjamin Jealous, Presidenet of the NAACP, who will speak at Pitt Law.