Coveted commencement speakers

At least a dozen members of Congress will join the pomp and circumstance of commencement season this month as they head back to their home states to dispense their best advice to the class of 2011. 

The Hill spoke to several of these lawmakers, many of whom said they are honored to have the opportunity to impart their wisdom and experience on today’s graduates. In their speeches they plan to address a wide range of topics, including job creation, the transition into the “real world” and the pursuit of interesting, exciting and varied opportunities.

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Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.)

Owens, an alumnus of Manhattan College and Fordham University School of Law, is scheduled to give the May 20 commencement address at Jefferson Community College in his upstate New York district. He plans to focus on the importance of education.

In his words: “In addition to conveying the concept of the importance of education, the other thing I want to convey to people is a sense of hope — that this is a really exciting time in their lives and one they should really be embracing. I am going to tell them to find something to do in life that they get some joy out of. It’s critically important for people to do that.”

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.)

Lugar has had several speeches lined up: He spoke at Vincennes University in Indiana on April 30, addressed American University grads last Saturday, and is scheduled to give a speech at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania on May 14. His theme has been American exceptionalism.

Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke said the senator still remembers the speech Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins gave when the senator graduated from Denison University in 1954. It was titled “The Promise of Tomorrow.”

Lugar, also an Oxford University alumnus as a Rhodes scholar, has given 46 commencement addresses since his own ceremony.

Helmke said: “You can see that [the promise of tomorrow] has been a constant theme in Sen. Lugar’s 46 commencement addresses since then. He is perpetually optimistic and enjoys making that point to young people to challenge them on the promise of the future.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

Lewis spoke at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia on May 7, and is scheduled to give an address at North Carolina Central University on May 14. His theme has been the anniversary of the Freedom Riders. Lewis was one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders on the rides, which were an effort in the 1960s to end segregation.

In his speech at Mary Washington, Lewis lauded the students for their efforts to remember the rides.

His spokeswoman, Brenda Jones, said Lewis makes many commencement addresses each year, and enjoys giving them. Lewis is an alumnus of the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)

Hutchison will return to her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, to give the commencement address on May 21. Hutchison was a UT cheerleader and a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority before graduating in 1962, and she returned for her law degree, which she received in 1967.

Hutchison received the university’s outstanding alumni award in 1995, and she also gave the graduation speech in 1998.

Also of note: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose office did not respond to a request for comment, is scheduled to address Catholic University on May 14 and the Ohio State University on June 12. He’s an alumnus of Xavier University.