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.


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.


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!

Commencement Remarks 2008

President Knapp
Charge to the Graduates
W. Russell Ramsey
Commencement Remarks
Richard Crespin
Commencement Remarks
Mike McConnell
Commencement Remarks
Sara Ray
Commencement Remark
Christine Handy
Commencement Remarks
Julian Bond
Commencement Remarks
Sen. Daniel Inouye
Commencement Remarks
President Knapp
Interfaith Baccalaureate Remarks


Commencement Videos 2009

President Steven Knapp's Charge to
the GW Graduates of 2009

GW Board of Trustees Chairman W. Russell Ramsey's Commencement Remarks

GW Alumni Association President Richard Crespin's Commencement Remarks

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's Commencement Remarks

Honorary Degree Recipient Jeanne Narum's Commencement Remarks

Honorary Degree Recipient John Safer's Commencement Remarks

Student Speaker Naomi Rapp's Commencement Remarks

Student Speaker Cosmin Florescu's Commencement Remarks


Commencement Photo Galleries

Photo Galleries 2009

GW Commencement on the National Mall, May 17
GW Commencement Formal Gallery, May 17
Monumental Celebration, May 16 Interfaith Baccalaureate Service, May 15
Doctoral Hooding Ceremony, May 15  


Commencement Remarks--Cosmin Florescu

Cosmin Florescu, M.A., M.P.H. ‘09
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 17, 2009

My dear fellow graduates: In 1988, when most of you were born, I lived in communist Romania behind the Iron Curtain. At that time, you and I were enemies, representing different ideologies. In 1989, I experienced Eastern Europe's shortest and bloodiest revolution, one week of terrifying violence as Romanian soldiers and citizens rose up to overthrow Nicolae Ceausescu, formerly known as the president of the Socialist Republic of Romania, but in reality a terrible tyrant.

The Romanian uprising was the culmination of a 1989 revolutions that began in Poland and Hungary, continued with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and swept eastward through Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Many of you have studied these events. I lived them.

Romania is now a thriving democracy in the European Union and a permanent member of NATO. Perhaps more importantly, the United States and Romania are now allies that address the same global challenges together. Thus, I stand before you today as a fellow countryman in more ways than one.

It is entirely fitting that the University named for the father of this country holds its graduation ceremony on the National Mall between two of the greatest symbols of our democracy, the United States Capitol and the Washington Monument. These monuments have a special meaning for me, a first generation immigrant from a country in the former Soviet bloc. Even though my parents and I had nothing but a suitcase when we arrived in this country in December of 1991, we knew we were in America, the land of opportunity, and that there was an available path for us to take that helped us reach our goal. We overcame the gritty hardship that most immigrants face, and today I graduate with two master's degrees.

One of the greatest strengths of our democracy is our ability to overcome periods of adversity. The majority of us have first-hand experience with the current economic situation and many of us are apprehensive about finding a job that will pay the rent, put food on the table, and repay student loans. In times like these, it's useful to reflect on past periods of hardship and the role that college graduates played in overcoming those challenging times. Students who emerged from college shortly after the Great Depression went to work building the highway system and inventing the earliest computer, while college graduates of the Cold War launched the first communications satellite and invented the Internet.

As a graduating class, we will overcome adversity again, not just because we are equipped with the skills needed for the jobs of the 21st century, but because we're imbued with the spirit of George Washington, who knew a great deal about triumph over adversity.

So I salute you, my fellow graduates, as you leave GW and go forth to take on the world. Some of you will work right here in D.C. to help operate this great government. Others will return to your home towns or home countries to work, travel, or study. Whatever your next step is, I wish you success.

I will return to my home state of California to take pre-med courses and then head off to medical school. I will also have the thrill of finally becoming an American citizen when I go through the naturalization ceremony later this summer.

I congratulate you all on your accomplishment so far and offer you my best wishes as you embark on your destiny.

Thank you.

Commencement Remarks--Naomi Rapp

Naomi Rapp, B.S. ‘09
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 17, 2009

No matter where you're from, attending the George Washington University changes you. Perhaps the same could be said for any college, but I think it is undeniable that, living in the nation's capital, we are faced with one of a kind challenges every day that, whether we realize it or not, have contributed to who we are. Motorcades are no longer something to call home about, but rather an obstacle between you and the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. We no longer giggle at the words "Foggy Bottom." And although we may try time and time again, we will never actually know what is in Minutia's GW sauce.

The real challenge, though, has only just begun. Perhaps one day you'll be faced with a new kind of probably, like deciding whether to move away from family for a job or if your major, what you've dedicated countless hours and too many sleepless nights to, is really want you want to do. It can get overwhelming when there are only a few knowns, what seem like a million unknowns, and Texas Instruments doesn't make a large enough calculator. There is one thing I do know. I could not be more confident that the about-to-be GW graduate sitting in front of me today is ready.

In every graduation speech I've seen in movies, this is the part where the speaker stands in front of the graduates and exclaims: "We finally made it." But I disagree. I don't think we finally made it. I think we've just gotten here. This is when it all really starts. We are at a place in our lives which we'll never be at again.

So if you take nothing else from my speech today, other than that some engineers are half-decent writers, of course, remember the regrets that really eat away at you are from the things you didn't do, not from the things you did. Always wondering what it would have felt like, tasted like, been like, those are the regrets that never go away. Trust that you have the skills to do whatever you want, because whether you believe it or not, I know you do.

So, Class of 2009, I congratulate you and challenge you, in fact I triple dog dare you, to take those risks and live without regret.

Now, as we each go our separate ways and exit the George Washington University bubble we have called home for so long, we must remember that today we are not each other's competition, but we are peers and, most importantly, friends. So whether you studied engineering, international affairs, human services, business, journalism, or anything in between, from one friend to another: Congratulations, good luck, enjoy life wherever it may take you.

Thank you.