I smiled and clapped quietly to myself when Penn announced its 2013 commencement speaker a couple days ago: Vice President Joe Biden. Joe Biden! What a fish to net! Won a big election this year. Amassed enough celebrity to have his financials hacked with the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton. (Biden’s daughter will be graduating from Penn, so this is a totally two-bird sitch for him.) What other universities nailed the commencement speaker game? Here, the 14 most noteworthy college commencement speakers for 2013:
1. Benedictine College: Paul Ryan. After a failed vice-presidential run, it must feel good for Ryan to walk into the arms of an academic institution not plagued—as so many in this great country are—by hot-headed secularism.
2. Harvard University: Oprah. I will watch the live-stream of this one, but will be indignant if so much as one Harvard kid gets a free car out of this.
3. Knox College: Ed Helms. He’ll be getting an honorary award along with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who, bewilderingly, was not tapped to co-host the show.
4. Millersville University: Tom Corbett. Want to get lots of media attention for your little PA college with fewer than 10,000 students? Pick someone who will inspire the kids to start a petition banning that speaker.
5. Notre Dame: Cardinal Timothy Dolan. An ecclesiastic grand slam for the Fighting Irish. That’s good, because the Catholic Church is riding a brief publicity wave right now, and because their speaker last year—a former Notre Dame swimmer who suffered a terrible bus accident and spinal injuries only to beat the odds and swim again—had, as one of their campus op-ed writers put it, “very little to offer us in terms of constructive career advice.”
6. Smith College: Arianna Huffington. A big (if unusually corporate) catch for Smith.
7. Syracuse University: Nicholas Kristof. Syracuse reels in commencement speakers like it does point guards: Jane Goodall, Frank McCourt, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden (ahem), and even Aaron Sorkin have all spoken there.
8. University of Texas–Austin: Sonya Richards-Ross. This 2012 Olympic gold-winning sprinter is perhaps only exciting as a commencement speaker to track-and-field nerds like me. Which means everyone on the University of Texas–Austin campus is as excited as I am.
9. Tulane: Dalai Lama. Free! From daililama.com: ”For your information, as a long-standing policy His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not accept any fees for his talks.”
10. U.S. Naval Academy: President Obama. He would.
11. Vanderbilt University: Toni Morrison. The iconic American author, known for her stirring public speeches, turned 82 last month, and had Beloved challenged by a panicky mom for the 1,834th time.
12. University of Virginia: Stephen Colbert. UVA has been a soundboard of high-fives since this was announced a couple weeks ago. If you have not already watched his speech at Northwestern’s 2011 commencement, take some time right now.
13. Williams College: Billie Jean King. Many at Williams probably stared blankly at this announcement. We raised our eyebrows and reread the Philly Mag profile of the pioneering tennis player from 2011.
14. Yale University: Cory Booker. The ubiquitous Newark mayor returns to his law school with ambitions that probably still match those of his young audience. (Bonus: He will also handle all campus emergencies that day.)