Move over, lieutenant governors.
Make way for Bono, Bill Cosby and Big Bird.
As this year's graduates prepare to go forth into the real world, their commencement speakers are increasingly likely to be celebrities and entertainers, rather than the relatively staid public officials who were a staple of ceremonies in the '60s and '70s.
This year Bono spoke at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Dubuque heard from Tony Danza, "West Wing" actor Bradley Whitford spoke at the University of Wisconsin and Big Bird puppeteer Caroll Spinney spoke at Villanova.
"It wasn't nearly as common for entertainment figures" to address graduates in the 1970s, says Brian Palmer, president of the National Speakers Bureau in Libertyville, Ill.
Some decry the trend toward celebrities, with student journalists at New York University (which in recent years heard from Alec Baldwin) editorializing that "NYU students would rather listen to an interesting academic than a famous name any day."
But others take a more balanced view.
"Commencement ceremonies at many universities are very long, and when on top of that you bring in a speaker who wants to speak for 45 minutes about a world issue, it may just be the wrong place for that," says Steven Tepper, deputy director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University.
Part of the story is that society has changed. Activists were popular speakers in the baby boomer 1970s, and the 1980s, with its worship of Wall Street, helped pave the way for the CEO speaker.
Today, fame is almost an end to itself. With "American Idol" on television, could Simon Cowell on the podium be far behind?
Audiences have changed too. The docile listener has gone the way of the car buyer who just wanted a red Volkswagen Beetle. Today, we're in the market for a red SUV with a gray interior, a bike rack, seats that reconfigure three different ways and a built-in picnic table.
Similarly, we want our speakers to be interesting and high profile, yet not politically or morally offensive in any way.
"In the late 1970s, early 1980s, when I started, people were a lot more easygoing," Palmer says.
"They wanted a guy who would show up sober and make people laugh about every four minutes. But now the way they go about selecting their speakers is a lot more intricate."
Schools, meanwhile, are under increasing pressure not to offend their finicky commencement audiences.
"Colleges have become more competitive for students, for research money, and so anything that's going to embarrass the university probably isn't [viewed as] good," says Hilary Levey, a Princeton graduate student who is researching trends in commencement speakers.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Tepper says, activist speeches tend to be broader and less controversial than they were in the 1970s -- "save the world" as opposed to "save the seals."
You can have a Democratic senator such as Joe Biden, Palmer says, but a lot of schools will shy away from a fire-breathing liberal such as Michael Moore.
Still, controversy does sometimes squeak through.
When senior Villanova student Cara Tarity first learned that Spinney, the Big Bird puppeteer, would be this year's speaker, she was "absolutely shocked," she told the the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"Then, I didn't know what to think. I mean, U. Penn. got Bono and we get Big Bird?"