In a departure from the low-key ceremonies of years past, Rutgers University is putting out all the stops for their graduates this spring. The New Jersey university announced that author and Noble laureate, Toni Morrison will be delivering the school’s commencement address.
The author of such books as “Sula,” “Beloved,” and “The Bluest Eye,” Morrison is the kind of high profile speaker Rutgers hoped to attract.
So much so that the University shelled out $30,000 to book the author for the date.
According to Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor, the payment was necessary “to draw a speaker of Ms. Morrison’s caliber.”
Though Morrison has taught at Rutgers before, she currently is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, at Princeton University. With commencement season in full swing, the school couldn’t afford to risk losing a chance to secure the deal.
While many initially cited the invitation as an irresponsible use of funds, Rutgers says that it did not use any state funds or money from tuition payments to secure the eloquent author who practically speaks in quotes- instead using the money from the funds it receives as part of its 10-year contract with PepsiCo.
The $30,000 payment may be a break in tradition for Rutgers, but it follows a larger trend among Universities across the country. Commencement speakers can often serve as a marketing tool for higher education. Just this morning, it was announced that First Lady Michelle Obama would be addressing the women of Spelman College’s graduating class. It’s an appearance that not only provides a great benefit for the 500 graduates, but long lasting benefit for the school at large.
In addition to financial compensation, Rutgers will be presenting Morrison with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree as well. The ceremony will be held on May 15th. It is the 245th anniversary of the school’s commencement.