Speech! Speech!

Finding a header for a college commencement ceremony requires tons of thought — and sometimes cash.

Fareed Zakaria, Salman Khan, and Colin Powell

Illustration by Josue Evilla

From left, Fareed Zakaria, Salman Khan, and Colin Powell.

The caps and gowns have been fitted, and the bands have “Pomp and Circumstance” down pat. But before thousands of soon-to-be graduates pack up their U-Hauls and leave town, there’s one last thing they need: inspirational words from someone they can look up to.

When it comes to booking a big-name commencement speaker, the competition among schools can be fierce — and each institution has its own recruiting strategy. Some go straight democracy (MIT’s one-person, one-vote committee); others leave it up to the trustees (Northeastern). Some pony up — fees for top-tier speakers can reportedly hit six figures — while others rely on connections. At Northeastern, for instance, president Joseph Aoun says Colin Powell isn’t being paid for the address he’ll deliver on May 4. Across the river, MIT has booked investment banker turned online-education pioneer Salman Khan, an alumnus, for its June 8 exercises.

For its 375th commencement, on May 24, Harvard is bringing in a speaker who’s both an alum and a national media personality: CNN newsman Fareed Zakaria. “He is someone who is so familiar with the global context of a changing world,” says Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust. “And that seemed to us an extremely important part of what is going to matter in the next decade, quarter-century, 375 years.”

Whatever advice Zakaria dishes out, we hope the kids listen (especially if he reminds them not to take their moving vans onto Storrow Drive).