Commencement Videos 2008

GW Board of Trustees Chairman W. Russell Ramsey's Commencement Remarks GW Alumni Association President Richard Crespin's Commencement Remarks
Mike McConnell's Commencement Remarks Student Speaker Sarah Ray's Commencement Remarks
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond's Commencement Remarks Christine Handy's Commencement Remarks
Sen. Daniel Inouye's Commencement Remarks  

 

Interfaith Baccalaureate Service Remarks

President Steven Knapp
Interfaith Baccalaureate Service
Washington, DC
May 16, 2008

Good afternoon. I would like to thank Nicole Capp for so kindly inviting me, on behalf of the Student Association, to participate in this important tradition and to share my thoughts with you on the eve of Commencement weekend.

This is a rare opportunity to pause for a moment, in the life of a very busy university, to reflect together on how far we have come and where we are going. It’s a chance to step back and to see our lives in a much broader perspective, a perspective made possible by the tradition of faith or of life philosophy that each of us carries but that is hard to keep in mind as we dive into our studies, prepare to teach our classes, or take on the challenging problems of functioning as a complex institution in a vital urban setting.

As I thought about what to say this afternoon, my mind kept returning to the image of a person whose every action is pervaded by faith – faith of an unusually powerful but, for many of us, unfamiliar kind. It was my privilege to spend an entire evening at dinner with this person. Actually, it’s a bit misleading to say that I spent the evening with him, because that implies a somewhat intimate setting. Although I did sit next to him – the kind of thing you get to do as a university president -- we were in the company of more than 600 other people in a very large room, the atrium of the National Building Museum. The occasion was the fifth annual gala for the GW Cancer Institute, and my friend for the evening was there to receive a well-deserved honor, the Cancer Compassion Award, which goes each year to someone “who has exemplified devotion to improving access to and quality of care among medically underserved communities.” The honoree, my dinner companion, was South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Bishop Tutu was no stranger to GW; in fact, in 1999 he received an honorary degree and gave the speech at that year’s Commencement. I had met him once before, more than 20 years ago, when he visited California during his ultimately successful campaign to end the South African system of racial segregation known as “apartheid,” and I was leading a coalition of churches and synagogues responding to the needs of refugees from the terrible wars that were then underway in Central America.

Desmond Tutu, who will be 77 this October and is currently battling his second recurrence of prostate cancer, has led a remarkable life. He began his life in 1931, in a black ghetto in the South African town of Klerksdorp, where his father was a schoolmaster and where his brothers all died in childhood, although two sisters survived. When he was 12 years old, his family moved to the deeply segregated city of Johannesburg. His passion for education, and in particular his love of Shakespeare, was ignited by a black high school teacher English teacher whose name he still recalls, Geoff Mamabulu. He also recalls being inspired by the achievements of African Americans who were just beginning to receive international notice – people like the athletes Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis and the musicians Fats Waller and Lena Horne. At the age of 12, he contracted tuberculosis, but somehow survived. He studied to be a teacher, taught for awhile at his old high school, then quit when the South Government passed new legislation designed to enforce a permanent state of inferiority for what was called “Bantu,” meaning black, education. It was at that point that he entered the priesthood of the Anglican Church, studying theology in South Africa and England, and eventually rising to position of Bishop of Lesotho and later Archbishop of Capetown, which made him the first black African to become the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa.

In 1984, Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as a non-violent leader of the movement to end apartheid, although everyone at the time, including him, knew that the prize was really intended for the movement as a whole. He responded with a moving and gracious speech that called not for reconciliation and peace. When apartheid finally did come to an end, South Africa’s first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela, asked the Archbishop to lead a truly amazing process of collective confession and forgiveness as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His work has been credited with helping South Africa avoid the bloody revenge and that could easily have followed so many decades of violent oppression by a white minority that was only 20% of the population and was now at the mercy of the vastly larger black majority. For three years, victims of apartheid were given an opportunity to recount their experiences; at the same time, perpetrators of torture, assassination, and other atrocities who came forward to confess their crimes were granted amnesty.

Here is what Desmond Tutu said, in a 2004 interview, about what he learned from his role as head of the Commission:

I have come to realize the extraordinary capacity for evil that all of us have because we have now heard the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and there have been revelations of horrendous atrocities that people have committed. Any and every one of us could have perpetrated those atrocities. The people who were perpetrators of the most gruesome things didn’t have horns, didn’t have tails. They were ordinary human beings like you and me. That’s the one thing. Devastating! But the other, more exhilarating than anything that I have ever experienced – and something I hadn’t expected – to discover that we have an extraordinary capacity for good. People who suffered untold misery, people who should have been riddled with bitterness, resentment and anger come to the Commission and exhibit an extraordinary magnanimity and nobility of spirit in their willingness to forgive, and to say, “Hah! Human beings actually are fundamentally good.” The aberration, in fact, is the evil one, for God created us ultimately for God, for goodness, for laughter, for joy, for compassion, for caring. [i]

Many, and for all I know most, of those gathered here today do not share Desmond Tutu’s Christian faith, or perhaps any kind of specifically religious faith at all. Many of you might not agree with all his other opinions; in fact, he has been in many ways a controversial figure, regarded by some, despite his nonviolence, as too extreme in his support of black African liberation, by others as not extreme enough. His views on world issues outside South Africa have also been criticized as often as they have been praised. It is not my aim this afternoon to convert you, either to his faith or to his politics. But there is something about him that I would like you at least to think about, something that, in my experience, is characteristic of many people of deep faith, no matter what tradition they belong to.

If you ask Desmond Tutu today what he thinks about his country, whether he thinks his nonviolent revolution really succeeded – and it may be impolite to do so in a dinner conversation, but I asked him nonetheless – he becomes very quiet, very thoughtful, and then answers that the outcome has been a mixture of good and bad. Legal segregation is gone, democracy has arrived, and the country is no longer ruled by a tiny minority. But the country has been terribly devastated by HIV/AIDS, costing many, many lives that never should have ended so tragically early. He has often disagreed with the position his government has taken – most publicly, in recent years, its toleration of the abuses of human rights in the neighboring country of Zimbabwe. He looks at all these flaws with complete and sober realism.

And yet you have already heard, in what I quoted from the interview, his message of irrepressible optimism and hope. In my experience, it is generally those with the deepest faith who can manage such a combination of realism, such a full appreciation of the depth of human evil, with so frank and unembarrassed attitudes of optimism and hope.

But even more than hope, even more than optimism: what radiates when you meet him from every inch of this small, aging, and seemingly rather frail human being is something harder to describe, something I recognized, in fact, from a meeting several years ago with the Dalai Lama. I may be an English teacher, but I have still found myself struggling to find the right word to describe his quality. It’s a word you don’t hear much nowadays, probably because the quality it describes is hard to capture in soundbites or video clips, although you feel it instantly when you’re in its presence. Archbishop Tutu pointed to it indirectly when, in the interview I just quoted, he included “laughter” and “joy” among the things for which, he says, God created us.

The quality I’m trying to isolate, I think, is mirth. It’s related to happiness, and also to that familiar talent what we call a “sense of humor.” But it’s something rarer, something you prize when you meet it, something that gives you, whether you’re religious or not, a sense of awe at the sheer vitality, the deep inner resources, of certain very special human beings.

Here are some ways to recognize it. A person of mirth takes pleasure, or more exactly takes joy, in the sheer presence of other human beings. A person of mirth regards other persons as objects of wonder, fascinating mysteries, and seems to enjoy the mere thought of their existence. But such a person also takes joy, also rejoices, in the sheer presence and mystery of him or herself.

In fact, the surest sign that you are in the presence of a person of mirth like Desmond Tutu is the strangely infectious way he has of laughing at his own jokes. That’s supposed to be annoying, a sign of bad taste or insecurity, and generally it is annoying and embarrassing when someone laughs too loudly or too long at his or her own jokes. But the self-directed laughter of a mirthful person is not annoying; it’s endearing, infectious, and it has a lingering effect. It conveys an impression of overflowing life, life in abundance; and more than almost any effect I can think of that one human being can have upon others, it engenders those feelings of hope and optimism that make it bearable, for people of every faith, to live in a world of so much violence, so much injustice, so much atrocity.


So let me pray, on this occasion of interfaith prayer and reflection, that each of you, as you go out into the world, will have many opportunities to meet, and to be moved and changed by meeting, those special people who seek justice and peace and wholeness for all humankind; who do so even while knowing and never forgetting the depth of human evil: people who know how to laugh at their own jokes, and who can do so because their very souls are overflowing with an inexhaustible inner life that shows itself forth as mirth. Amen.

[i] Desmond Tutu, Academy of Achievement Website, June 12, 2004

Commencement Remarks--Senator Daniel Inouye

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, J.D. '52
Commencement Address
The George Washington University Law School
Washington, DC
Sunday, May 18, 2008

A week ago, I spent four hours watching the first four chapters of HBO’s special documentary on John Adams. I did this to remind myself of the pain, anxiety, and sacrifices that our founding fathers had to endure for an idea. For this idea, they were willing to give up their lives, their families, and their fortunes.

They were told by the powerful king of one of the then most powerful nations of the world, Great Britain, that they would be hanged by their necks to their death if they followed their intended course. Yet they proceeded.

I was mesmerized by the scene of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin debating the text of the Declaration of Independence. This Declaration with its key sentence of 35 words has been an important part of my life since my early youth. I have found myself thinking of those 35 words in my mind during difficult moments of decision-making: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our founding fathers adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, knowing very well that to do so meant immediate death upon capture, the destruction of their families, and the confiscation of their properties. But they did so.

They bravely took to heart their Declaration, knowing it could not be realistically applied at that moment. This was a long-term problem that would take generations. After adopting the Declaration, ironically, these historic figures left Philadelphia to return to their homes, their farms, and their shops, and they were greeted and served by their African slaves upon their return.

In their hearts of hearts, our founding fathers knew that slavery was wrong. But they were also sadly aware that the people of this new land were not quite ready to accept slaves as persons who were created equally.

The 35 words that comprise the heart of the Declaration of Independence have been read, re-read, tested, condemned, and acclaimed. Nearly 80 years after the founding of our nation, these 35 words were once again put to an important test. It was a test that culminated in the War Between the States, a war in which so many thousands – for both the Union and Confederacy – gave their lives for their beliefs.

Then nearly eight decades later, these 35 words were once again attacked and put to the test. The time was World War II, and I was part of that World War II generation. Two weeks after December 7, 1941, a regulation by our government proclaimed that my father, who had traveled with his parents at the age of 3 to a Hawaii plantation; my mother, who was born in a Hawaii plantation village and whose parents toiled in plantation fields; together with my sister, two brothers, and countless cousins, were declared to be among those unfit to be Americans.

Moreover, some of our friends and cousins who lived on the West Coast of the United States were given 24-hour notice to abandon their homes and farms. They were told to take only their belongings that they could carry with them. They were sent to 10 desolate, far-off places, where they were confined in camps ringed by barbed wire and guard towers whose guns pointed inward. Our government called these facilities concentration camps. Approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans spent part of their lives there, and some remained there until the end of World War II. From these camps, hundreds of Japanese Americans volunteered to fight and die for their country, which had incarcerated them without cause, and for only one reason: that they shared the ancestry of our enemies, the Japanese.

For Japanese Americans, our official designation was 4-C – enemy alien. For many of us, the impact of that label was personal, and an affront to our patriotism. We felt we had to demonstrate our loyalty and Americanism to the land of our birth.

We petitioned the government to let us volunteer, and enter into combat with the enemy – even if it meant fighting our cousins in Japan. Eventually, we were allowed to serve in a segregated unit. This unit has the distinction of being the most decorated unit of its size in the history of the U.S. Army.

To the glory of our country, 43 years after the end of World War II, our nation, by legislative and presidential approval, acknowledged the wrong that was committed to this segment of its citizenry during the early days of the conflict, and formally apologized. What other nation would have done that – admit a wrongful act?

It was a proud moment in my life to have our nation find the courage to admit to a wrong and apologize.

In less than a generation after World War II, the heart of the Declaration of Independence – those key 35 words – were again put to a test. It was a test in which our nation saw bloody demonstrations in the streets. People were killed, and cities were torched. Even our beloved leaders were assassinated. But we passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in doing so we acknowledged that those 35 words were not only important, but correct.

I believe those words are once again being tested. And they are being tested both at home and abroad.

In our land of democracy, equality, and plenty, there are millions of citizens who cannot afford health care, and our economy is faltering for a growing number of Americans. The increasing cost of gas puts a crunch on family budgets. Far from home, we are once again involved in an unpopular war, a war that is seemingly opposed by much of the young men and women of our nation. These challenges at home and abroad make it very difficult to bring the people of our nation together.

But, members of the Class of 2008, it will be you and your generation that will carry the flag through this time of challenge. You will have the opportunity to take those 35 words, and make them more of a reality for our fellow citizens.

I know that at my age, I do not have many years left to fight the good fight. So I envy you. You have the opportunity to step forward, and take some important steps to advance the words of Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and our other founding fathers. I hope some of you will seriously consider public service. Through you, we can make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness much more of a reality.

As you and your generation take your first steps forward to positions of leadership and influence, we are at a moment in history when we could soon have a president of African American heritage. And it wasn’t many years ago when racial discrimination was still legal, even though the Civil War ended slavery. Racism is still alive, but we are moving forward.

I still remember from my law school days of learning of the grief of a GW Ph.D. faculty member – a white woman – who was married to an American Samoan who held a Ph.D. They could not live in Virginia because of that state’s miscegenation law. Today, miscegenation laws are unconstitutional and banned. Another sign of progress.

And we also have the possibility of having a woman as president. It was only 88 years ago that American women gained, through legislative and presidential action, the right to vote. This is a significant step forward.

We also have a man in the presidential race who wore our nation’s uniform. He served our country, and his service included five-and-a-half torturous years in a dungeon in Hanoi. His service reflected a commitment to those important 35 words of the Declaration of Independence.

To the Class of 2008, I congratulate you for your hard work that has led to this special moment. Savor it.

I wish all of you well. I also wish you will always hold close to your heart that document that defines our great nation, and its most important 35 words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

God bless you, and Gold bless America.
 

Commencement Remarks--Julian Bond NAACP Chairman

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 18, 2008

President Knapp, members of the faculty, administrators, parents, family members, friends – and most importantly, graduates – it is a high honor to have been asked to speak here today.

Ceremonies like this one inevitably call to mind my first commencement, my graduation from high school many years ago. The speaker then was the late Dr. Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University. He spoke – without notes – in the hot afternoon sun – for more than an hour. As I listened I thought, “Someday I’ll get a chance to do that.”

Luckily for you, this isn’t it.

It is, however, the occasion for congratulations to you and reflections from me.

I am the grandson of a slave.

My grandfather was born in Kentucky in 1863, and because of this, freedom didn’t come for him until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865.

He and his mother were property, like a horse or a chair. As a young girl, she had been given away as a wedding gift to a new bride, and when that bride became pregnant, her husband – that’s my great-grandmother’s master and owner – exercised his right to take his wife’s slave as his mistress. That union produced two children, one of them my grandfather.

Your presence here attests to the value you place on education and your willingness to make sacrifices to obtain it. The same was true for my grandfather.

At age 15, barely able to read or write, he hitched his tuition – a steer – to a rope and walked 100 miles across Kentucky to Berea College, and the College took him in.
When he graduated from Berea thirteen years later, the college asked him to deliver the commencement address.

He said then:

“The pessimist from his corner looks out on the world of wickedness and sin and blinded by all that is good or hopeful in the condition and progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things for the future.

In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm, in every flash of lightning an omen of evil, and in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe.

He forgets that the clouds also bring life and hope, that lightning purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardships and adversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories.” [i]

“Greater efforts and grander victories.” That was the promise the generation born in slavery made a century and a half ago. That was the promise made by the generation that won the great world war for democracy six decades ago. That was the promise made by those who brought democracy to America’s darkest corners four decades ago.

And that is the promise you must seek to honor as you leave these ceremonies and enter the world beyond.

You graduate at an historic time and in an historic place.

Forty-five years ago more than a quarter of a million people gathered here on this mall to march for jobs and freedom and to hear the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King tell the nation of his dream.

Black people’s passage to this country was on slave ships. Their passage to citizenship occurred on that day in this place.

I worked then for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as its Communications Director. SNCC, founded only three years before the March, was the youngest sponsoring organization. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), whose Board I now chair, was the oldest, dating back to 1909.

As a representative of the youngest organization, my job at the March on Washington was to bring coca-colas to the movie stars. My most compelling memory of that day was giving a coke to Sammy Davis Jr. and having him say, Thanks, kid.”

The first speaker that day was the 74 year-old labor leader, A. Philip Randolph, who had devoted his life to jobs and freedom. The march had been his idea, and he later called it “the most beautiful and glorious day” of his life.

The last speaker, of course, was Dr. King. His talk that day cemented him and the civil rights movement in America’s consciousness.

It was also here in Washington – at the National Cathedral – where Dr. King, on March 31, 1968, five years after the March on Washington and forty years ago, delivered his last Sunday sermon. Four days later he would be assassinated in Memphis. He now has been dead longer than he lived.

Today we have encased the man and the movement in myth. As King biographer Taylor Branch recently said, “To see King and his cohorts as anything less than modern founders of democracy – even as racial healers and reconcilers – is to diminish them under the spell of myth.” [ii]

I hope, graduates, that as you contemplate what you receive when you are handed your diplomas, you will think of these “modern founders of democracy.” And of the tens of thousands of others who experienced the tragedy and triumph that is the history of our national struggle to come to grips with the unresolved problem of race.

And I hope you will understand that this struggle has everything to do with you.

When the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in 1954 in the case called Brown v. Board of Education, a vast army of nonviolent protestors rose up to challenge segregation’s morality as well.

Students like you began embracing jail without bail when they sat down to stand up for their rights. They attacked segregated interstate travel with their bodies and segregated ballot boxes across the South as well.

Through this period the federal government helped only reluctantly, and then only when white property or people seemed at risk. State and local government worked in active concert with white terrorists, and the movement had few allies.

But from the first it was a people’s movement, made up of ordinary women and men. The cumulative acts of their passive resistance became our modern democracy’s finest hour. By 1965, Jim Crow was legally dead.

A vote-less people had voted with their bodies and their feet and paved the way for other social protest. The anti-war movement of the 1960s drew its earliest soldiers from the southern freedom army. The reborn movement for women’s rights took many of its cues and much of its momentum from the southern movement for civil rights.

Most of those who made the movement were not famous; they were faceless. They were not notable; they were nameless – marchers with tired feet, protestors beaten back by billy clubs and fire hoses, unknown women and men who risked job and home and life.

As we honor you graduates today for what you have achieved, so should you honor them for what they achieved for you.

They helped you learn how to be free.

They gave you the freedom to enter the larger world protected from its worst abuses.

If you are black or female or gay, their struggles prevent your race or gender or sexual orientation from being the arbitrary handicap today it was then.

If you belong to an ethnic minority or if you are disabled, your ethnicity or disability cannot now be used to discriminate against you as it was then.

If you are Catholic or Muslim or Jewish, your faith cannot be an impediment to your success.

As you grow older, because of what they did then, you will be able to work as long as you are able.

Your job – your responsibility – is to make these protections more secure, to expand them for your generation and those who will soon follow you. In doing so, you will make King’s legacy live.

Our future as a nation depends on our willingness to continue to reach into the racial cleavage that defines American society and to change the racial contours of our world.

In 1954, the federal government’s brief in Brown argued that school desegregation was a Cold War imperative, a necessary weapon to win America’s battles overseas. Current events give us the same imperative – to prove to friend and foe alike that our commitment to justice is real.

Wherever you may go from here – if there are hungry minds or hungry bodies nearby, you can feed them. If there are precincts of the powerless poor nearby, you can organize them. If there is racial or ethnic injustice, you can attack and destroy it.

By this ritual today, you are about to be officially enrolled in an elite within our nation – the community of educated women and men. As you go forward from this place, we all hope that you will do well – but I hope you will also do good.

You must place interest in principle above interest on principal.

An early attempt at ending illiteracy in the South developed a slogan that was also their method – “Each One Teach One” until all could read.

Perhaps your slogan could be “Each One Reach One”.

Each one reach one until all are registered and voting.

Each one reach one until all are productive citizens of our world.

Each one reach one until the weak are strong and the sick are healed.

Each one reach one until your problem is mine, until mine is yours.

Just as it is not enough not to do evil, it is not enough just to do good.

It may be helpful to think of your task in this way:

Two men sitting by a river see, to their great shock, a helpless baby floating by. They rescue the child, and to their horror, another baby soon comes floating down the stream. When that child is pulled to safety, another baby comes along. As one man plunges into the river a third time, the other rushes upstream.

“Come back!” yells the man in the water. “We must save this baby!”

“You save it,” the other yells back. “I’m going to find out who is throwing babies in the river and make them stop!”

Racial minorities serve society like the canaries that miners used to carry to warn them when the underground air was becoming too toxic to breathe.

But too many people want to put gas masks on the canaries instead of eliminating the poison in the air. Too many want to put life preservers on the babies, instead of stopping them from being thrown into a treacherous, dangerous stream.

As you aspire to greater efforts and grander victories, you must be prepared to offer not just love, but justice, not gas masks but pure air, not life preservers, but an end to throwing babies away.

This is not easy work, but you know what hard work is – that is what brought you here today.

I urge you to continue to do and be your best – and to apply your talents not just to bettering yourselves, not just to doing social service but also to bringing social justice.

The possibilities are immense and so are the rewards.

Historian Howard Zinn wrote the civil rights movement proved:

“… that even if people lack the customary attributes of power -- money, political authority, physical force – as did the black people of the Deep South, there is a power that can be created out of spent-up indignation, courage, and the inspiration of a common cause, and that if enough people put their minds and bodies into that cause, they can win. It is a phenomenon recorded again and again in the history of popular movements against injustice all over the world…”

“Not to believe in the possibility of dramatic change is to forget that things have changed, not enough, of course, but enough to show what is possible. We have been surprised before in history. We can be surprised again. Indeed, we can do the surprising. …”

“The reward for participating in a movement for social justice is not the prospect of future victory. It is the exhilaration of standing together with other people, taking risks together, enjoying small triumphs and enduring disenheartening setbacks – together.” [iii]

If my grandfather were here, I think he would ask now, “What did you do with your freedom?” Some day someone will ask you – “What did you do with your education?”

Be sure you have an answer – for your family, your
nation, your world. They’re counting on you.

(Julian Bond has been Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors since February 1998. He is a distinguished Professor in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor in the History Department at the University of Virginia.)

[i] Commencement Address by James Bond, Berea College Reporter (June 1892).
[ii] Taylor Branch, “King’s Nonviolence: Asleep after 40 Years?” March 31, 2008.
[iii] Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, 1994, Beacon Press.

Commencement Remarks--Christine Handy

Christine C. Handy, Ed.D. '08
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 18, 2008

Greetings President Knapp, Mr. Bond, Deans, Faculty and staff, honored guests, fellow graduates, families and friends. It is my honor to represent the 2008 graduating class of The George Washington University. Today, we salute the George Washington University faculty and our families for their guidance, support, and the opportunities they gave us to enhance two desirable characteristics, civility and integrity.

As I thought about commencement and what I would share with you, my 284-page dissertation came to mind. When it was submitted and returned, I asked, “What’s wrong?” I was notified that The Table of Contents, which tells us what is inside, had something missing and it had to be corrected.

As we reflect on civility and integrity, let us think about our personal Table of Contents. What is inside of us? What corrections do we need to make?

Is civility there with its many meanings, like courtesy and politeness? What about the moral responsibilities we have to one another? A wise man once said, “Love thy neighbor as yourself.” Our neighbor extends beyond next door, or the blocks where we live, it extends to our cities, to our states, to this wonderful country, the United States of America, and to the world in which we live.

Civility includes giving back, lending a hand, lifting up, and providing leadership to the needs of our society. Check your Table of Contents, if civility is missing, please make the correction.

Integrity is synonymous with decency, honesty, and having a strong commitment to sound principles. When we have integrity, we have pride; we feel good and have peace of mind. We can be trusted, we have good relationships, and people just like being around those of us with integrity.

Check your Table of Contents, if integrity is missing, please make the correction.

As you leave here today, a new graduate of The George Washington University, be sure to double check your Table of Contents, what is inside of you? Civility and Integrity will help you to make a profound change in the world.

So, go forth today, make a difference! Congratulations Class of 2008! Thank you!
 

Commencement Remarks--Sara Ray

Sara Ray, B.A. '08
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 18, 2008

As a junior in high school, my mother told me that my best memories of college would be of staying up late with friends solving the world’s problems over leftover pizza. At the time, I thought that sounded like a pretty dim forecast of college. Now, however, six years later, I will very publicly admit that my mother, on THIS point, was correct. Today, I’d like to talk to you about this sentiment, how it relates to my experience at GW and how it assures me that the real world is nothing for us to fear.

First of all, I’d like to thank the remainder of my class for the faith you’ve given me in our generation. For years, people our age have been typecast as apathetic, selfish, close-minded and lacking a social conscience. Our late night discussions, arguments and strategizing over pizza boxes are what have convinced me unfailingly that this characterization is false. In our lives, we’ve seen our environment fade, politics divide our country and we’ve all seen friends sent overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our generation is not one that can afford to be passive and, over our years at GW, we have learned to incorporate that mindset into our studies, friendships and lives. We argue into the wee hours of the morning about what candidate will save our nation, we learn Arabic and Chinese and we innovate with administrators to make our corner of the earth at GW a more ecologically friendly one. Now, as seniors, I am humbled and amazed at the sheer number of my phenomenally qualified peers foregoing lucrative careers to go into the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Our social conscience is alive, and it’s pulsing.

Each one of us has a unique story, a different path through our university poising us to go different places to do different things. I came to GW wanting to be a physics major, a dream that lasted precisely one calculus class. It wasn’t my crushing failures in calculus that convinced me I wasn’t a physicist. Rather, it was the feeling I got when talking about language and culture and its role in building bridges between nations with my peers that convinced me I was an anthropologist. Interning full time, unpaid with the State Department gave me a passion for education as a mechanism for foreign relations and a dispassion for office jobs. Working on Colonial Cabinet 2006 showed me how much I loved working as a part of a highly energized team. Those experiences now imprinted in my personal history, they’ve led me to the future of my dreams: going to Macedonia for two years to teach English with the Peace Corps.

Every one of us could tell a similar story. Each one of us has an issue or a cause that, no matter what the hour, ignites the deepest passion within us. And I believe many of us have realized that our true calling in life is to address that issue with action. Some of you are holding the solution to the medical crises that plague the planet. A remarkable number of you have been grabbed by the pressing need to help alleviate inequality in our domestic education system. Over four years, I’ve heard many visions of the ideal president and I am not doubtful that he or she sits somewhere in front of me today.

This is the last time that our paths are convergent. A ten-person trip to a restaurant will never again be as simple as a few phone calls and text messages. To this end, I’d like to give credit to my father on being correct when he told me that I would meet people in college who would remain my friends forever. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2008, there’s nothing for us to be afraid of. In the past four years, we have honed in on the passions that drive us and found the people who will always hold us up. No matter where you go or what you do, you have found people, sitting with you somewhere here today, that will be there at your wedding, baby shower, bachelor party, retirement party and, if all goes well, will be there wreaking havoc in the nursing home right by your side.

Today is graduation. We are graduating from sitting with friends talking over pizza about how to make the world a better place. Today, everyone, is commencement. It is the beginning. We are graduating from talk and commencing to action to leave this world a better place than we found it. Take the lessons you’ve learned, the friendships you’ve forged, get out into the world and let’s make it work.

Commencement Remarks--Mike McConnell

Director of National Intelligence Mr. Mike McConnell, M.P.A. '86
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Graduation
The Charles E. Smith Center
Washington, DC
May 17, 2008

President Knapp, distinguished faculty, staff, parents, family, and most importantly Class of 2008 of which I am now a member.

(Applause).

I’m indeed humbled and most appreciative for this Doctorate of Public Service.

Professor Jill Kasle, the person to my left who introduced me, I just wanted to note that 20 years ago I was one of her students. (Laughter). You have my deepest sympathies. (Laughter).

Professor Kasle was without a doubt one of the absolutely best professors I ever had. The part I didn’t understand is how could she be a full professor at George Washington at only age 13. (Laughter).

I’ve been an intelligence officer, either directly as active duty or serving for over 40 years. Except for a few days testifying on the Hill, I wouldn’t trade a single day of it. (Laughter). It’s been a wonderful life of public service. Exciting, challenging, interesting, fascinating, and I would argue, necessary.

Early on we learn a very valuable lesson in the intelligence community. There are only four outcomes to any crisis. If you have a crisis, four outcomes. You have a policy success, a diplomatic success, an operational success, or an intelligence failure. (Laughter).

A lot of criticism of my community. We missed Pearl Harbor, if you think way back in historical terms. We missed the collapse of the Soviet Union. We missed 9/11, the attack on the World Trade Centers. What I thought I’d do this afternoon is provide a little bit of context of that background and why, in my view, this community is so necessary in defense of the country.

An intelligence officer learns a very valuable lesson early in his career. An easy way to sum that up is bottom line, up front. We serve very busy people, a lot of competition for their time, so our challenge is what’s the point, and present it in a form that they can accept the information in the frame of reference that’s most meaningful to them.

So my two bottom lines this afternoon are sincerest congratulations to you all, the graduates, for your achievements and for what you’re about to enter in this next phase of your life. You have chosen a wonderful university. You’re fortunate enough to live in a wonderful country and I wish you the very best as you go forward.

The second bottom line is to increase your awareness of my community a little bit more, and hopefully maybe spark an interest in serving the profession that I serve.

What I thought I would do is tell you a little bit about me, a little bit about your parents, and a little bit about you.

I found this fascinating, I ran across it the other day. Let me talk about the silent generation. This goes back a long time. I won’t tell you exactly how old I am, but I grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression. I believe in an honest and hard day’s work. I’m structured and disciplined. I’m self-sacrificing. And I have great respect for authority. That describes my generation.

How about your parents? (One person clapping). There’s another one from that generation right over here. Thank you. (Laughter).

Your parents. The baby boomers. Characteristics. The most populous generation in U.S. history. Focused on personal achievement. They are ego centric. (Laughter). They have less respect for authority. They started something called workaholic. They are very optimistic, however, they have ruled the workplace and they are very resistant to change.

Now you. Your characteristics. The best educated, most technically literate of any generation of Americans. You know no limits. You feel like you’re entitled to everything. (Laughter). (Applause). You are highly creative and technologically advanced. You believe anything and everything is possible. You crave teamwork, you crave fun, and you demand social relationships with everyone to include your boss. (Laughter).

Now advice to me from someone who prepared this information is, if we are going to be relevant, my community is going to be relevant to you, we have to create a team-oriented environment where you are challenged to multi-task. We challenge you by giving you tasks where you will have to use your incredible creativity and your intellectual curiosity. You don’t take yourself too seriously, you don’t want your bosses to take themselves too seriously. And that’s my challenge.

Now the last time that I was introduced as a spy there was a journalist in the audience. The next morning I was anxious to read the news and he said, “No James Bond stuff here.” (Laughter). “Looks more like a country banker with a bad comb-over.” (Laughter). (Applause).

So as you can see, I’m starting my part not to take myself too seriously, but I want to have a serious note. We have an intelligence community and our dilemma is we live in a free and open society and we have a necessity for secrecy. It’s not just spies and counter-spies. We study world issues, trends, economics, demographics. I thought I’d give you a couple of examples.

We’re now projecting the four largest economies in 20-25 years. Now the summary line is, it’s the Century of Asia. The number one economy in the world will be China. We’re debating over who’s number two. Is it the United States or is it India? Number four will be Japan, of course.

Now if you think about four of the largest economies in the world either being in Asia or having a footprint in Asia, our West Coast, it makes you think about how the next century might unfold.

Let me introduce demographics. Demographically China, Japan, Europe – I didn’t mention Europe earlier, but I would add it, Russia – didn’t mention Russia earlier, but I would add it, the demographic trends are all negative. Think of it as a cliff that falls off the edge.

The other two that I did mention, the United States and India – demographics are positive. India for its growth rate, its birth rate; and the United States for immigration. For those two reasons India and the United States in addition to being democratic societies that tend to solve problems, it’s a much brighter future.

This would give you thought about what career you might choose over the next 50 years, because your work span will be in excess of 50 years.

Intelligence in many communities is used to spy on its own citizens. We are the luckiest people in the world. We live in America. We have this incredible thing called a Constitution. We have checks and balances. It created three co-equal branches of government to ensure that we sustain those checks and balances. It creates tension. You can never define it exactly right at a point in history to say what the answer is, so it created tension in our government so we can work through problems to get to the right solution.

Because of our commitment to democracy we are the beacon of hope, we have respect for law and we follow the rules. If we abuse that balance, our system will correct it. There were abuses in the ‘70s. My community was asked to spy on Americans. That resulted in very strenuous hearings that created new rules and laws about how we govern the community. There are congressional oversight committees that are very intrusively watching what I do and what my community does, and that’s the right thing.

I thought I’d give you just a little snapshot of day in the life. Because I have the privilege of serving in the position that I serve in, I get to arise each morning at 4:00 a.m.. Now I notice several familiar faces out here, and I’m assuming when I was coming down to the White House early in the morning what I was seeing were students that were either staying up late studying – (Laughter) – or you were preparing for an early class. (Laughter). Parents, I want to assure you that that’s what they were doing. (Laughter).

I thought I’d use a couple of quick stories just to illustrate this issue of secrecy and the need to protect the country in an open society. I want to use a historical example.

I mentioned that we failed in Pearl Harbor. Shortly after Pearl Harbor the Japanese fleet was underway. They were going to strike a target. Admiral Nimitz who was commander in the Pacific knew they were underway; he knew the target was somewhere between Singapore and San Francisco – a pretty broad area to cover. We had combined our resources and developed the capability to break Japanese codes, so by guessing at logical targets we caused one of those targets, Midway, to speak about itself in the clear. “There’s no fresh water in Midway.” We had Midway broadcast in the clear, “We’re suffering a water shortage, we need a tanker.”

The Japanese fleet, which is not answering back to the shore; the shore is speaking to the fleet while it’s underway, that’s to reduce their vulnerability, reported to the fleet that, “The target is suffering a water shortage.” So instantly Admiral Nimitz knew the answer and he put what was remaining of the U.S. fleet at Midway. The battle was won and the battle for the Pacific was never reversed throughout the rest of World War II. (Applause).

Meantime, on the other side of the world between the United States and Great Britain, we were breaking the German High Command, the Nazi code. We were reading their mail, their messages, their plans, before the field commanders. We knew at Normandy, for example, that they had believed our deception effort and we were likely to prevail.

Now Churchill faced a dilemma at one time. He knew the Germans were going to attack a town in England and the dilemma was, do I warn the town? Because by providing warning, the Germans would know, they could change their codes, and we’d lose our capability. He did not provide the warning.

Did the American public have a right to know that we were reading Japanese code and German code in World War II? That’s the dilemma that we face – freedom in this society versus what we’re doing against those who wish us harm.

I mentioned failure at 9/11. Part of our culture is described as “need to know”. I have information, I own the information, I determine if you have a need to know it. What that builds in is a lack of sharing information. So we have new legislation, we have a new structure, and we’re attempting to aggressively attack that cultural understanding. We’re moving from a “need to know” culture to a “responsibility to provide” culture. The analysts should understand I have information, I have to find the user and I have to deliver the information.

Let me make it relevant today. Al Qaeda, who wishes this nation great harm, is enjoying a de facto safe haven in a region of Pakistan about the size of New Jersey. They are recruiting people from around the world, to include Europe, to train them to then come back into Europe, the United Kingdom or the United States with a goal of achieving mass casualties greater than 9/11. Last year we observed a cell, we knew who they were, we watched them. Their intent was to have mass casualties in Germany against a U.S. military facility and against a German government facility. We tracked them, we coordinated with the Germans, we arrested them, and they’re in jail today.

They had in their possession 1500 liters of hydrogen peroxide. (Applause). They were going to use the hydrogen peroxide to make explosives, commercially available material, to kill lots of people. We were successful in stopping them.

Now we are balancing constantly sources and methods and secrecy in our effort to help and protect the United States. We always are worrying about making sure that we’re doing our mission against foreigners, those who wish us harm, as opposed to anything to do with U.S. citizens. The congressional oversight that I mentioned is strong, it’s intrusive, and sometimes we disagree, but when we’re out of balance it’s decided by the American people.

The greatness of this country is we resolve our disputes at a ballot box, not with a gun.

I have a large community. This community is over 100,000 people, and it’s measured in billions of dollars – in excess of $40 billion on an annual basis. It’s an exciting mission. It’s around the world, from code-breaking to spy satellites to human agents recruiting other human beings. We have worked to achieve deep penetration of those who wish us harm. I would argue, it’s very effective.

We have new leadership. It’s informed. Our focus is to protect this country. We need your help to do that.

Let me close by just reminding you that the first spymaster in the nation is the person that this university is named after. It’s been around for a long, long time. We have to balance it the right way.

Let me go way back in history to a person named Sun Tzu, Chinese. His view, and he wrote about this extensively. His view, “It’s better to win or to prevail without having the battle.” What he believed would allow you to do that, to win without the battle, was good intelligence.

So I would congratulate you, hope I sparked an interest, and welcome you to joining our ranks as you go forward in the next phase of your life. Thank you very much.

(Applause).

Commencement Remarks 2008--Richard Crespin

GW Alumni Association President Richard Crespin, B.A. '93
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 18, 2008

If you are already an alum of the George Washington University, please stand so that we may recognize you.

Ladies and gentlemen of the graduating class: I am Richard Crespin and I am the President of the George Washington Alumni Association. On behalf of these alumni here gathered and on behalf of the nearly 220,000 living alumni around the world, it is my privilege to congratulate you today on the fulfillment of a dream.

The funny thing is that some of you think that it's your dream, perhaps a dream that you conceived of a few years ago when you first set foot on campus or were first accepted to the University. A few of you may think that it's your parents' dream or your family members or loved ones who have come here to see you complete this journey.

But the truth is that today you complete a dream far older, the dream of one man, this nation's first President, who looked out on what was then a young, fragile republic and saw that a national university in the nation's capital could bring together the youth of that nation and they together could build a more perfect union.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, you are gathered from all parts of this country and from all parts of this world, and today you go forth fulfilling that man's dream. After today you will go on to live new lives and do great things, and no matter where you go or what you do, you always carry with you the dream that is the George Washington University.

We, the alumni of GW, are the physical manifestation of that dream, and as such we have a special obligation, an obligation to each other, to draw each other closer together as that lifelong and worldwide community that Chairman Ramsey referenced, to draw in so doing closer this country, and to draw closer this entire world.

As the President of your Alumni Association, allow me to congratulate you on joining your worldwide family and be the first to welcome you as alumni and to challenge you to stay connected to each other, to your worldwide family, and to this institution, because, ladies and gentlemen, wherever you go, whatever you do in life, you will always be alumni of the George Washington University. Congratulations.

Commencement Remarks 2008--W. Russell Ramsey

W. Russell Ramsey
GW Board of Trustees Chairman
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 18, 2008

It is indeed an honor and a pleasure to be with you this morning. I have to say, I don't know if anybody out there has goose bumps, but I don't do this every day. Does anybody do this every day? I'm really almost without words, looking out at the smiling faces and the amount of accomplishment that obviously has happened here and is being so honorably celebrated.

For 187 years, The George Washington University has sent graduates out into the world. Indeed, one of the reasons The George Washington University is a great institution is that we have had 187 years of people who earn their degrees and then continue to care about their alma mater.

I'd like to talk to you for a moment, not only as chairman, but as a fellow graduate. I earned my degree from The George Washington University in 1981. Twenty-seven years later, I'm still talking about the experience of being a student here. I can honestly say the chance to go to GW changed my life, and my GW education helped bring me to where I am today.

As you know, graduation can be an occasion for reflection, so let me invite you to reflect today on a couple of things. When I was sitting where you are 27 years ago, all I knew was that I had myself, my inner beliefs, and what I thought would give me a ticket to as good a life as possible. The one message you have to know is that you must believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself I can assure you that you've had the benefit of one of the world's great cities, you've had the benefit of one of the world's great administrations, and you've had the caring of people throughout the University who really want to see you go out and make your mark in life. Wherever you go in that first job, in that first new school, in that first new home, make sure you know one thing: Whatever you want to do, you can do. If you're willing to outwork the competition and if you're willing to get there early to stay late, you can do whatever you want to do in life.

Look around here today and know that the GW community is thinking about you, we at the Board of Trustees care about you, and we hope to see you coming back for years with smiles on your faces and with accomplishments. We also hope to see many of you back here with sons and daughters and granddaughters.

I'd like to finally say that in your early life, in your mid-life, GW needs you. We need you to give us your time. Whatever city, whatever country you're in, we need you to stay connected. We are serious when we say GW, a lifelong community. We truly are a lifelong community.

Charge to the Graduates 2008

Delivered by GW President Steven Knapp
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 18, 2008

I am honored to welcome the Class of 2008 into the lifelong and worldwide community of GW alumni. You are exceptional men and women, and I am proud to call you graduates of The George Washington University!

This is an exhilarating day for you, as well as for the family and friends who have supported you throughout your educational journey. As we gather in this majestic setting on the historic National Mall to celebrate your accomplishments, I applaud your hard work and perseverance, your boldness of thought, and your deep interest in local, national, and world issues -- and your dedication to resolving them.

We at GW are proud of our reputation as one of the most politically engaged and service-oriented campuses in the nation. Our students care passionately about the state of the world and the state of whatever community they find themselves part of, and the approaches they take to addressing the pressing issues of our era range across the entire spectrum of political and philosophical opinion. In the last year, members of our GW community devoted 55,000 hours to volunteer service, and 66 of our alumni served abroad in the Peace Corps.

In his comments this morning, Julian Bond spoke about the civil rights movement that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so passionately symbolized. Today, as nearly 7,000 of you graduate just a short distance from the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King spoke so eloquently about his dream, I urge you all to strive for equality and justice in the world.

Commencement ushers in a new beginning for the Class of 2008 -- ripe with opportunity and bright with anticipation of the boundless adventures that lie ahead. Some of you will continue your education; others will pursue careers in your chosen professions, while others will embark on a mission with the Peace Corps or with another humanitarian organization.

My charge to you today is to lead lives rich in meaning and powerful in contribution. Take care of our planet, as some of you have promised to do in your impressive “graduation pledge,” advocating environmental awareness at your future work places. Take care of each other. Act with integrity. You have the potential to become our future leaders and can make a real difference in this world. And, as you go forth, always carry GW with you, and always regard GW as your intellectual and cultural home in the heart of the nation’s capital.

Best wishes to you all!