The nearly two-minute
But the target audience becomes obvious at the end, when 7-foot-6 freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye looks directly into the camera while towering over a cardboard cutout of
The video is the latest and perhaps most visible attempt by a university to attract a high-profile graduation speaker. Campuses have long tried to lure presidents and celebrities as a way of entertaining students and parents while drawing attention to their schools. But though schools still offer honorary degrees and even speaking fees in rare cases, some campuses have taken the wooing to a more visible level.
First Lady Michelle Obama accepted an invitation from UC Merced in 2009 to be that campus' first commencement speaker after students and staff bombarded her with postcards, valentines and a video in which the narrator says: "Dear Michelle, we believe in you and we would be honored if you could be our keynote speaker..."
The cost of having a member of the first family on campus isn't cheap; Merced didn't pay the first lady but had to shell out nearly $700,000 for additional security and other measures. But her visit brought invaluable publicity to the campus, which had been open for only four years at that point.
"It was the best advertising we could have hoped for," said Patti Waid, a Merced spokeswoman.
UC Irvine officials so far have spent about $1.2 million for a graduation ceremony that will be held at
Procuring graduation speakers can be a bit like asking someone to the prom. Faculty and students often debate who they'd like to speak (please say yes, Jon Stewart) versus who would actually come (the locally elected politician is available, right?), while also discreetly asking students and alumni if they have connections to anyone famous.
Then invitations are sent and fingers are crossed as administrators keep an eye on the calendar, trying to determine when they should go to the second option if the first doesn't pan out.
Even if the campus succeeds in getting a big-name speaker, the move can blow up in a whirlwind of negative publicity.
"A lot of it is managing expectations," said David Oxtoby, the president of Pomona College, where commencement speakers this year include Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama; Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries; and singer Placido Domingo.
Oxtoby, who previously taught at the
Some schools eschew well-known speakers and ask faculty or administrators to speak at commencement, often as a way to cut down on costs and time.
At Washington and Lee University in Virginia in the 1930s, faculty met immediately after a U.S. senator finished a marathon graduation speech on one of the hottest days of the year and passed a resolution that the president, going forward, would give brief remarks at undergraduate commencement.
"The wise and fiscally prudent board [of trustees] determined that in future years our graduates and families should rest easy knowing that if they had to endure a worthless commencement address, it would at least be inexpensive," President Kenneth P. Ruscio said several years ago.
This year, big names are on the program at Stanford, where Bill and Melinda Gates are scheduled to appear, and Harvard, where former
The presidential invitation is a break from UC Irvine tradition, where each of the 12 undergraduate and graduate schools generally has its own ceremony and administrators and faculty pick their own speakers. Over the years, author Sandra Tsing Loh, Orange County Sheriff
But, last year, administrators decided they wanted to do something special to mark the campus' 50th anniversary. President
Irvine administrators sent an invitation to the
School officials also decided to rent out Angel Stadium for a single graduation speaker, although each school will also have its own ceremony. If Obama does not appear, Gov. Jerry Brown and others have also been invited.
A decision isn't expected until next month. In general, presidents speak at a military university, then a public and a private school.
Irvine missed a chance to lobby Obama directly when members of its national championship men's volleyball team visited the White House earlier this week. There were nearly 350 students from schools across the nation there, and each team got about five minutes alone with Obama.
Ian Castellana, a middle blocker who graduated last year, said he had been encouraged to sell Irvine to the president, but Obama started by asking the students who they beat in the national championship.
Irvine has won four of the last seven Division I national titles.
"Someone said 'Which one?' And he said 'showoffs,' and then the whole conversation was focused on volleyball and the ethics of hard work," Castellana said.
Still, after the ceremony, Castellana and his friends filmed a short video, beseeching the president to speak at graduation, and posted it on the team's Facebook page.
"To be honest, I don't remember who spoke at my graduation," Castellana said. "So it would be my honor to see [Obama] twice in one lifetime."