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In a tumultuous and triumphant year, women are dominating as college commencement speakers

The Savannah College of Art and Design, one of the most prominent design schools in the world, was founded in 1978 by a woman: Paula Wallace, who now serves as the university's president.

This graduation season, the university hosted a trio of powerful female speakers at their three international campuses: Actress Hilary Swank spoke in Atlanta, film producer Juliet Blake spoke in London and Wen Zhou, CEO of the fashion brand 3.1 Phillip Lim, spoke at the school's Hong Kong campus.

On June 2 in Atlanta, Swank told graduates the two critical things emerging creators need are "perseverance and integrity" and that the early challenges of her career -- getting fired, being unemployed -- paved the way for her eventual success.

"Inevitably, the universe is going to throw some very ugly curve balls at you," said the two-time Oscar winner. "No matter what they look like, never assume that any of them are bad."

Oprah Winfrey also made a surprise appearance at the Atlanta ceremony.

"We're all seeking to be the truest, purest, highest expression of ourselves as human beings," she told graduates. "And so you've been able to do that here at this university -- express yourself fully, artfully, collaboratively, with each other, with yourself."

Both Winfrey and Swank were presented with honorary doctorate degrees from the school.

Oprah Winfrey speaks at the SCAD commencement in Atlanta.

In her own speech, Wallace, who founded the school while still in her twenties, mentioned a common phenomenon shared by powerful women: That there is no singular identity for greatness.

"When I first created SCAD, I was an educator ... not a historic preservationist, writer, speech maker or diplomat," she said. "But I've had to learn to be all those things, just as you will find yourselves cast in so many surprising roles ... because your dreams require it."

What other schools are doing

At schools around the country, the array of female commencement speakers this spring reads like a who's who of political and cultural relevancy:

Cynthia Nixon, actress, activist, LGBT figure and New York gubernatorial candidate, spoke at Helene Fuld College of Nursing earlier this month.
Ava DuVernay, director of this year's genre-bending adaptation of "A Wrinkle in Time," will speak at Cornell.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute will host a duo of influential STEM women: Margot Lee Shetterly, whose book "Hidden Figures" was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film, and Marcia McNutt, the president of the National Academy of Sciences.
Hillary Clinton will speak at Yale, her law school alma mater.
Mindy Kaling will speak at Dartmouth College this year.

Even from those few examples, the power and scope of the female voices is clear: They are influential in every professional field, every political movement and every cultural moment, and that's a reflection of social change.

According to an AP study, for the first time in at least 20 years, the majority of commencement speakers at top colleges will be women this year.

Choosing speakers can take more than a year

Colleges and universities usually start the process of choosing their graduation far in advance; at the beginning of the academic year if not sooner.

At the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, the process takes more than a year and is handled by the University Council Honorary Degree Committee.

With the help of a student advisory group, students are asked who they would prefer as speaker.

In 2016, this process netted Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway sensation "Hamilton," and a very au courant choice.

This year, the college will host journalist Andrea Mitchell, who is also a 1967 graduate of the school.
Sheryl Sandberg will speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this year.

Sheryl Sandberg will speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this year.

Some schools rely on students to decide

Some schools, like Ohio State University, rely even more heavily on the student body to choose a speaker.

OSU has an online speaker nomination tool as part of their process, and asks that nominees have name recognition and be "a leader in her or his field or linked to important and compelling issues."

This year, the University will welcome Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Here are some more 2018 speakers

Cynthia Nixon spoke at Helene Fuld College of Nursing this year.

Cynthia Nixon spoke at Helene Fuld College of Nursing this year.

Name recognition. Public interest. Social, cultural and political relevancy. If those are typical criteria for commencement speakers, it would make sense that more and more women would be asked to step up for the job.

Here are some more high-profile women that will speak this spring:

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