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Speaker Nominations

Members of the University of Richmond community are invited to submit nominations for the 2018 Commencement Speaker. Nominees will be evaluated for embodiment of the characteristics listed below. In your nomination, you will be asked to provide a brief description of how your nominee meets these characteristics. Please note: the University of Richmond traditionally does not pay a speaker fee for commencement speakers. 

To submit your nomination, follow the link below and complete the secure form (login required with your UR netID and password). The Honorary Degree Committee will review all nominations, and provide a slate of recommended finalists to the Senate for final approval and communication to President Crutcher, who will then make the final selection.

Ideal speaker candidates should embody many or all of the following characteristics:

  • Epitomize University of Richmond values
  • Be an exemplar of commitment to an idea, cause, or community
  • Set an inspirational example to graduating students
  • Be an engaging and dynamic speaker with the ability to deliver an affirming or celebratory message
  • Be accomplished in their work, or a visionary leader or community member
  • Have a national or international reputation
Submit Your Nomination

Past Speakers


Charlayne Hunter-Gault


Charlayne Hunter-Gault is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years in the industry. She began her journalism career as a reporter for The New Yorker, then worked as a local news anchor for WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., and as the Harlem bureau chief for The New York Times. Hunter-Gault is the author of four books. In 1999, she joined CNN as the network's chief correspondent in Africa and received a Peabody Award for her coverage of the continent. She also received two Emmy awards and a lifetime achievement award from the Washington Press Club Foundation.


Edward L. Ayers

President, University of Richmond

Edward L. Ayers served as president of the University of Richmond from 2007 to 2015. He is a noted historian and the author of 10 books on American history. He is a recipient of the National Medal for the Humanities, awarded by President Barack Obama in 2013, for making American history accessible to broad audiences. Ayers is a pioneer in the use of new technologies to explore humanities and works closely with the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond as they build an ambitious digital atlas of American history. Ayers is also co-host of BackStory, a nationally syndicated radio show that ties history to the present day.


Gayle Goodson Butler, '73

Editor-in-Chief, Better Homes and Gardens

Gayle Goodson Butler is executive vice president and creative content leader of Meredith Corporation's National Media group and editor-in-chief of the Better Homes and Gardens brand. She also oversees content creation for and BHG-branded mobile apps and special interest publications. In 2012, Better Homes and Gardens was named AdWeek's Hottest Magazine for Women and cited for its outstanding social media program. While a student at Richmond, Butler was a staff writer for The Collegian and president of the Westhampton College Government Association. She also served as president of the University of Richmond Alumni Association.


Amy O'Neill Richard

Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of State

Amy O'Neill Richard is a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of State and co-chairs a federal interagency task force on human trafficking research and data. Prior to assuming this role, she served as senior coordinator for reports in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Her work on the issue has won several awards including the Warren Christopher Award for Outstanding Achievement in Global Affairs for a report that was used to support the drafting of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Its findings provided an initial baseline for assessing early U.S. government anti-trafficking efforts.


Robert F. McDonnell

71st Governor of Virginia

Robert F. McDonnell was sworn in as the 71st governor of Virginia in 2010. As governor, he represented Virginia on multiple regional and national groups, and chaired the Southern Regional Education Board, the Southern Growth Policies Board, and the Legal Affairs Committee of the National Governors Association. He previously served 21 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1997. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1991 and served 14 years representing Virginia Beach in the General Assembly. In 2005, he was elected as the 44th attorney general of Virginia.


Dr. Curtis R. Carlson

Chairman, CEO, and President, SRI International

Dr. Curtis R. Carlson, chairman, CEO, and president of SRI International, is a widely sought-after speaker and expert on innovation and competitiveness and a leader in developing high-definition television broadcast standards in the United States. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to a task force on research and development, and he advises government leaders around the world. Carlson received Emmy awards for leading the development of the American HDTV broadcast standard and optimizing satellite broadcast image quality, and he holds a number of patents in the fields of image quality and coding and computer vision.


Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan was appointed to the U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2009. Before his move to the national stage, Duncan ran the nonprofit education foundation Ariel Education Initiative until 1998, and was part of a team that founded a public elementary school built around a financial literacy curriculum. The school quickly became one of Chicago's best. He later served as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2008, and became the longest-serving metro-area education superintendent in the country, overseeing notable improvements in the school system.


Timothy M. Kaine

70th Governor of Virginia

Timothy M. Kaine became Virginia's 70th governor in 2006, after serving as lieutenant governor since 2001. During his tenure, Virginia was recognized as the most business-friendly state in America; the top-performing state government in America; and the state where a child is most likely to have a successful life. Before entering politics, Kaine practiced law in Richmond for 17 years, representing people who had been denied housing opportunities because of their race or disability. He also taught legal ethics at the University of Richmond School of Law. Kaine served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011.


Leland D. Melvin, '86


Leland D. Melvin is a mission specialist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In February 2008, he became the first Spider in space when he flew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to help install upgrades to the orbiting International Space Station. As co-manager of NASA's Educator Astronaut Program, Melvin travels the country to inspire thousands of students to pursue careers in science and mathematics. Melvin was also an accomplished wide receiver on the University of Richmond football team and played briefly for the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.


Steve C. Buckingham, '71

Senior Vice President of A&R, Columbia Records

Steve C. Buckingham is a four-time Grammy Award-winning producer with 27 number-one singles, 11 platinum albums, and 19 gold albums to his credit. Among the varied artists he has produced are Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dionne Warwick, and Shania Twain. Buckingham was vice president of A&R for Columbia Records for 10 years before becoming senior vice president of Vanguard and Sugar Hill Records. In November 2006, Buckingham won the Alumni of the University of Richmond Award for Distinguished Service.