The Power of Cool: Celebrity Influence in the Ivory Tower

Jena L. Hawk
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
Gulfport, Mississippi, USA


Since the earliest of times, student orations and student debates served as the main attractions at college or university commencement ceremonies. However, these elements faded over time, and commencement speakers, specifically politicians or academics, eventually replaced student performances. Often, the commencement speaker emphasized the students’ rite of passage into adulthood as well as the development of their moral character. During the 1800s, celebrities began to receive invitations to serve as commencement speakers, and since then, celebrity influence has increased greatly in higher education as celebrities now teach classes at colleges and universities. The use of celebrities allows colleges and universities to command the public’s attention as members of the public feel as if they have a relationship with these individuals. Using the theoretical framework of parasocial interaction theory, the researcher examines the role of celebrities in higher education, specifically those delivering the keynote commencement addresses and discusses related issues emanating from this seemingly commonplace practice.

Keywords: popular culture, celebrity, commencement speakers, graduation

Author(s) Bio

Jena L. Hawk, a life-long Mississippian, is a language arts instructor at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. She earned a doctorate of philosophy in higher education administration from The University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests include the portrayal of higher education, particularly community colleges, in popular culture.  

Suggested Citation


Hawk, J. (2021). The power of cool: Celebrity influence in the ivory tower. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 8(1),


Hawk, Jena. “The Power of Cool: Celebrity Influence in the Ivory Tower.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 8, no. 1, 2021,

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