Some speakers will talk about Trump. Maz Jobrani, the Iranian-American stand-up comedian, is giving the speech at his alma mater, UCal-Berkeley. "I have to talk about him, because I'm an immigrant,'' he said. "The best graduation talks are sincere, and I have a lot of sincere feelings about his impact. He needs to take responsibility for his words.''
Some audiences want a political message. On a campus like Berkeley, which has become a battleground over political speech, an anti-Trump message presumably would resonate. A place like Liberty University in Virginia, where Trump himself will deliver the commencement, is another story.
"How to handle the national zeitgeist at this particular moment is a struggle,'' Quidlen said. "I'm hoping to speak to the graduates about who we are as individuals and as a nation, and who we hope to be, in a way that is informed at some level by the tone in Washington.''
During commencement season 2016, when Trump was the presumptive GOP nominee, he was the target of several high-profile attacks. At Stanford, documentarian Ken Burns accused Trump (without mentioning his name) of nurturing "an incipient proto-fascism'' as well as "jingoistic saber rattling'' and "dictatorial tendencies.''
He acknowledged that it was an unusual setting for such a polemic, but said, "There comes a time when I -- and you -- can no longer remain neutral, silent.'' He got a standing ovation.
At Johns Hopkins, director Spike Lee worried Trump would start World War III. At MIT, actor Matt Damon asked why, if our world is one of many simulations run by a superior civilization, "we're in the one where Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee? Can we, like, transfer to a different one?''
This year, many campus speakers are politicians – Joe Biden at Cornell, Colby and Harvard, Hillary Clinton at Wellesley and Medgar Evers College in New York City, Bernie Sanders at Brooklyn College, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at UMass-Amherst and Wheelock College, Vice President Mike Pence at the Naval Academy and Notre Dame and Trump as the Coast Guard Academy.
It's not clear if their speeches will be partisan. One early return: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking May 1 at Fisk University in Nashville, did not mention Trump, saying only that "The election showed how much work needs to be done to rid our nation of negative attitudes…''
Thornton, who teaches at the University of Virginia, said speakers should understand that the world will not long remember what they say: "I've been going to graduations for over 20 years and I can't remember a word, or who gave it. I'm speaking on Saturday; by Sunday they'll have forgotten everything. So I figure the pressure is off.'