Rutgers Tabs Bill Nye as Commencement Speaker

Bill Nye, CEO of Planetary Society, discussing anthropogenic influences on global climate. Photo by Raphael Perrino

Bill Nye, CEO of Planetary Society, discussing anthropogenic influences on global climate. Photo by Raphael Perrino

By Eric Mullin

Rutgers University announced that Bill Nye “The Science Guy” would be the commencement speaker at the New Brunswick school’s spring graduation.

Nye was unanimously approved by the Rutgers Board of Governors to be the commencement speaker at the University’s 249th graduation, which is scheduled for May 17 at High Point Solutions Stadium.  According to, Nye will be paid $35,000 to speak at the graduation and Rutgers officials are unaware if he will keep the money or donate it to the University.

Leslie Fehrenbach, secretary of the University and an officer on the Board of Governors at Rutgers, said that in looking for a commencement speaker the University attempts to appease the demands of three groups. The students want a celebrity, the faculty wants someone with a strong academic background, and the board wants a household name.

“Nye brings it all,” Fehrenbach said. “He is a celebrity from his television shows, he has strong academic credentials, and he is a household name.”

Nye, a graduate of Cornell University, is most known as “The Science Guy” from his educational television series, which is shown in science classrooms across the country. He is also the CEO of the Planetary Society, which according to its site, “sponsors projects that will seed innovative space technologies, nurtures creative young minds, and is a vital advocate for our future in space.”  The Planetary Society is also the largest public space organization in the world.

“I was really excited,” Rutgers senior Myles Sepulveda, said when he learned that Bill Nye was going to speak at graduation.  “Our generation grew up watching him in grade school science classes, so for him to send us off out of college is really cool.”

Fehrenbach said Nye was honored and excited when the University reached out to him to be the commencement speaker.

Last year Rutgers initially named former Secretary of Defense Condoleezza Rice as the commencement speaker. But Rice would eventually back out after weeks of student and faculty protests at Rutgers against her over her involvement in the Iraq war as the Secretary of Defense for the Bush Administration.

Fehrenbach said that the process in selecting the speaker changed this year after the board received feedback from students and faculty after last year’s selection of Rice.  This year, a student originally nominated Nye, but then his name had to go through a long process that involved multiple votes of approval. The University also elected to announce the commencement speaker later in the semester. Last year Rutgers announced the speaker in February.

The Faculty Council, which advocated for the Board of Governors to rescind their invitation to Rice last year, could not be reached for an interview about this year’s process and selection of Bill Nye as the commencement speaker.  Fehrenbach said that the faculty as a whole was satisfied with the selection of Nye because of his academic credentials.  There have not been any public demonstrations at Rutgers in opposition of Nye as the speaker.

The University also announced that Jon Bon Jovi will be the commencement speaker at the Rutgers-Camden graduation and Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will be the speaker at the Rutgers-Newark graduation.