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.

Commencement Remarks--John Safer

John Safer, B.A. '47, renowned sculptor, Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
Sunday, May 17, 2009

I started off as a bewildered, frightened freshman here, and it's a great honor to be here today. When I was informed that I would be addressing the graduating class of George Washington today, I began to ask myself, what can I say that will have meaning and value to you? I tried to go through my life to determine what I've done that would be unusual. Well, I've had a wider-ranging career than most and so it occurred to me that perhaps I have a broader perspective on life than most.

As President Knapp said, when I left George Washington University World War II was on and I joined the Air Force, spent years in that, went on to go to law school, worked in television, and then I did some electronic research, and then I started building shopping centers, hotels, office buildings, and then became the chairman of the board of a successful of banks.

Throughout all of that, that was never my focus in life. My focus was always my art and my sculpture, and I tried to spend at least half of my waking hours on that sculpture. I tried to create beauty where there had been none before. I tried to create sculptures which at best I hoped would inspire others.

So I asked myself, what can I glean from all that that I can pass on to you. Well, I have a suggestion. All of you are starting your careers today. You will go on into private business, industry. You'll become doctors, lawyers, scientists. I would strongly suggest that you turn your focus outward rather than inward. Set as your goals not just personal success, but set as your goal that you can make the world a better place, because if you do that a remarkable thing can happen. If you try to make the world a better place, the world can become a better place. And that's a wonderful thought, that because of you and the way you live your life the world can be a better place. I can almost assure you that if you do that you will have a richer and more rewarding life.

So that's my suggestion. Beyond that, I can only say that it's been a long route from being that confused, frightened freshman to be standing here and receiving a doctorate from my old university, and for that I'm very -- Thank you, thank you. I'm very proud and very honored, and I thank you one and all.

Commencement Remarks--Jeanne Narum

Jeanne Narum, director of Project Kaleidoscope and the Independent Colleges Office, Doctor of Science, honoris causa
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thank you, President Knapp. I am deeply honored and somewhat overwhelmed. Your recognition of the work of Project Kaleidoscope signals what is important to the George Washington University, the importance of taking leadership and connecting the dots in new ways between science and society, between the campus and the world beyond, and between the quality of the undergraduate learning in science, mathematics, and the various fields of science and the capacity of our nation to continue to thrive and prosper as a free democracy into the future.

For the 2009 graduates of the George Washington University, let me describe some of the A's, B's, and C's of the lesson we've learned. First, aim high, have high ambitions. Early on in our work someone sent me these words of wisdom: "Make no small plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." The male gender indicates the age of those words, uttered more than 100 years ago by the great Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. As an aside, they problem still resonate with leaders from Chicago today and we are very glad for that.

Twenty years ago it seemed daunting to aspire to transforming the undergraduate learning environment in math, science, and engineering, but we had high aspirations, persisted, and succeeded.

Second, build bridges that begin to connect the dots in ways that make sense for your society in our time. Become boundary crossing agents. At the beginning of our work, we saw a thousand unconnected points of light across the country and set about building a national power grid to illuminate best practices in science and math teaching and learning. What we distilled from these models of best practices was that what works was when campuses had carefully identified goals for learning that were reflected in program and space. One of the overriding goals we notice is that students become boundary crossing agents, able to cross boundaries between disciplines, between the academic and the real world, boundaries between what is and what might be, and able to do this because of their learning as undergraduates.

Our big ambition in our work -- the heart of our work has been to nurture communities of boundary crossing agents.

I leave with you the challenge of aiming high, of having big ambitions, and hope that each of you aim to be a boundary crossing agent in some part of the world where your skills and passions can make a difference. All our communities, local, regional, and global, need you. Congratulations.

Commencement Remarks--Rahm Emanuel

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 17, 2009

"Doctor." I just want you to know that you've made one Jewish mother happy in Chicago--who spent many a sleepless night wondering what would happen to her middle son.

I listened to that introduction. I actually wish my parents were here, because I know my mother would be proud and my father would be amazed.

President, Mr. Chairman, and the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, proud parents, family, friends, and above all the graduating class of 2009: Congratulations.

I also want to thank George Washington University for bestowing this honorary degree. This is actually the second honorary degree I've received this year. Just last week I was awarded an honorary degree for my contribution in the field of linguistics, particularly my work in four-letter words.

This is a wonderful day for all of you, as you mark the end of one great effort and the beginning of another. You've taken on difficult assignments, passed tough exams. You've pored over course packets late into the night and into the early morning. You've worked hard. You've also played hard. You've stumbled and gotten back up, occasionally as a consequence of playing hard. You also did your fair share of growing up over the past four years.

As for your families, this is their day, too, because they've been on this journey with you. They've listened to you, worried for you, placed their hopes in you, and wished you'd call more. On behalf of all the parents here, allow me to say to these fine graduates: Text messages do not suffice. Just because you're holding a phone in your hand, that does not count as a phone call.

In all seriousness, as I'm standing here I can't help but be excited for you. This is an incredibly challenging moment for our country. As the President's Chief of Staff, I am humbled, a quality that does not come naturally, and amazed by the incredible array of problems that President Obama confronts on a daily basis, a day that will be filled with hard choices about our policies with regard to struggling automakers and unstable financial markets, rising health care costs, growing dependence on foreign oil, dangerous regions in the world, and a difficult job market here at home.

Our President has a tough job, and the reality is -- and this is the truth -- he needs your help. I can think of no other time in our history in which an educated and engaged citizenry was needed more than it is now.

So yes, you're leaving this campus and all the opportunities to learn and grow that it offers, at a time when our economy is struggling, our nation is facing tough problems, and a time when jobs are harder to come by than perhaps many of you had hoped for or expected just four years ago.

But I'm also excited for you, because it is at moments like these when we need a new generation to offer new ideas and new energy to meet the challenges we face as a country, because it is moments like these when we prove what we are really worth. I am excited for you because I know that you are ready. Well, you look like you're ready after a good night's sleep, that is.

So on this beautiful day, before these eager, wild-eyed graduates, I want to share a few stories and the lessons they have taught me when I faced tough times, when I stumbled, and when there has been an extreme rare occasion that I've made a mistake.

I want to start with a lesson that I learned the hard way. When I was in high school I was a pretty reckless guy. Let's just say I wasn't the staid and somber figure that stands before you now. I had lost -- I was working as a meat cutter and sliced my finger deeply and not being -- being 17, went swimming in Lake Michigan, ended up -- it was prom night; that's a legitimate thing to do -- ended up with five blood infections, two bone infections, gangrene, and a 105 fever, and in a hospital for two months, and for the first 96 hours I battled between life and death.

But what started as a minor mishap turned into a life-threatening infection. There were several weeks in the hospital, sleepless nights in the intensive care unit, five roommates who died. It was a terrible time for me and worse for my parents. But to be honest, I'm glad I went through it, because a funny thing happened along the way back from the precipe: Nearly losing my life made me want to live my life.

So the first lesson I'd impart is this: Don't be reckless with what you've been given. Take what you do and how you live your life seriously. It is that seriousness of purpose that I learned in that hospital bed for eight weeks, and I'm grateful for that lesson every day of my life, the things that didn't matter so much any more, the little things. And I knew I wanted to make something of myself and make a difference in this world.

The second lesson I want to share with you is about learning from your failures. I've been fortunate to have found success in my life and I know most of you will be successful as well, because you have the love of your parents and a college education from a great university. But that success will depend on what you do when you fail, because you will fail along the way. We all do.

1992 was a good year, as the President noted. I joined Bill Clinton's long-shot presidential race as finance director. He was talking about hope, he wasn't from Washington, and no one thought he could win. It sounded so familiar. We raised a lot of money that helped us spread our message and win a great victory. Soon afterward, I was named political director in the White House. I was on top of the world, and in a pretty good job for someone just several years out of college.

But the truth is, it may have gone to my head a little bit, and I think you can strike the word "may." I probably shot off my mouth a few too many times and I problem picked up a few too many fights, and before I knew it my dream job was hanging by a threat. I was demoted. It felt terrible, and here I was, thinking that I had messed up the biggest opportunity of my life.

But I didn't give up. I didn't quit. I dug in and I dug deep. I refused to leave. But I did try to act with a little less bravado and a lot more humility. I threw myself into the efforts to pass the assault weapon ban, NAFTA, welfare reform, the crime bill, and while doing my best to prove that I could work well with others. And by the way, that's a work in progress sometimes.

But that's the second lesson in life: Learn humility and wisdom when you stumble, because it will help you when you succeed. Being forced to come back from that failure is why I'm standing here today. You will have failures in your life, but it is what you do during those valleys that will determine the heights of your peaks.

At the other end of this mall is a memorial to Abraham Lincoln, a man who knew something about failure. Abraham Lincoln rose from humble origins, endured a string of disappointments and defeats on his way to becoming the 16th President. As President, he presided over a series of Union Army losses that completely shook his confidence in his generals. But Lincoln drew the right lessons from those setbacks and he kept improving and coming back stronger, until finally he had the team and the strategy to save our Union. The greatest President of our nation, in my view, has known a lifetime of setbacks. His greatness came from how he came back from his failures.

The final lesson I want to leave you with today is the importance of serving a cause bigger than yourself. This is a school in the heart of our nation's capital, where students and the university itself make public service a big priority. Anyone would acknowledge that America has had a tough couple of years, but in the long run America will be known, not for what we've done over these last years, but for what we're about to do to come back. But that will only be true--that will only be true if all of us do our part.

I can't sugar-coat the fact that this job market is going to be tough or that the economy is struggling or that we face great challenges in the area of energy, climate change, education, and health care. It's an all-hands-on-deck moment for America. It's going to take all of us.

I myself know that all too well. Just a few months ago, I was working in that beautiful building behind me and I loved being a member of Congress. I was working on behalf of the people of the Fifth District of Chicago, fighting for causes I believed in, and I had big plans for myself and the House of Representatives. My family, meanwhile, was happy we were living in Chicago, the Windy City, which I think we brought a little of.

Then the President-elect called with what he felt was a pretty good idea. My kids are too young to understand why I'm uprooting their lives to answer that call, but I tried to explain to them: Sometimes you have to give up something you cherish to be part of achieving something even bigger.

There is a greater good beyond the walls of your own ambition, and I think your generation understands this better than mine did and better than most have. In spite of what you've seen, or perhaps because of it, you know that apathy is simply not an option, and you're choosing citizenship over cynicism. Last year 35,000 young people applied for 4,000 slots in Teach for America. The Peace Corps had three applicants for every one position. AmeriCorps has had a 400 percent increase in the applications in just the past four months.

A few weeks ago, President Obama signed into law an historic bipartisan national service bill that will make it possible for young Americans to serve across America and make this a greater country.

It will create opportunities for hundreds of thousands of committed citizens to give back and make a difference by helping veterans, working in schools and hospitals, cleaning up the environment, and doing their part to build a clean energy economy. Whether it is through these new national service corps or by teaching in a school, serving in the military, working in the government, volunteering in any of a number of ways in your community, I hope you will enlist in your country's service. You'll be a better citizen for it, you'll be a happier person for it, and this country will be stronger because of it.

The Class of 2009, I know those lessons may sound pretty straightforward, but trust me, they were gained through a lot of pain and anguish and soul-searching. I hope you can learn from my mistakes as you start this new chapter in your life, because if you have the seriousness of purpose, if you find wisdom in your failures, if you give yourself to a cause greater than yourself, then I know you will do great things, because for all of the challenges of the moment we're in, there is a silver lining to graduating at this moment in time, because you not only have the great responsibility to serve your country, you have an extraordinary opportunity to change it. You have a rare chance to do big things in this world, and I hope with all my heart that you seize it. You have prepared yourselves well here at George Washington to do just that.

I thank you, I congratulate you, and you wish you good luck and Godspeed. God bless America.

Commencement Remarks--Richard Crespin

GW Alumni Association President Richard Crespin, B.A. '93
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 17, 2009

I am Richard Crespin and I am the President of the George Washington Alumni Association. Let me begin by asking all of you who are currently alumni of the University to please rise that we might recognize you.

Members of the graduating class: It is my great privilege today to congratulate you on realizing a dream. You may think it's your dream, but in fact today you fulfill a dream far older, a dream of one man, our nation's first President, who looked out on what was then a young country and saw that a national university in the nation's capital could draw together the youth of that country and they together would forge a nation. Today you fulfill his dream, becoming full members in our lifelong and worldwide community.

Being a member of our community means staying involved. Attend your reunion, support a scholarship, mentor a student. We the alumni of GW are the physical embodiment of his dream and we have a special obligation to ensure that the next generation carries it forward.

After today you will go on to live new lives and do great things, and you will always carry with you the gift that is George Washington.

When you stepped on this field you were just students. When you leave it today and from this day forward, wherever you go, whatever you do, you will always be alumni of the George Washington University. Congratulations.

Commencement Remarks--W. Russell Ramsey

W. Russell Ramsey, B.B.A. ’81
GW Board of Trustees Chairman
GW Commencement on the National Mall
Washington, DC
May 17, 2009

Good morning and welcome. Welcome on behalf of the members of the University community who are some of your biggest fans, our trustees. May I also ask the trustees who have joined us here today to rise and be welcomed by the audience.

I am also very pleased and honored to welcome our honorary degree recipients. Thank you for being with us today.

Today I am honored to represent the University as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. But I am equally proud to represent GW as an alumnus of this great University. I can still remember my own graduation from GW. I had so many hopes and expectations, and I have found, and I hope you will too, that GW more than prepared me for the challenges to come; and the friendships and connections I built here have lasted a lifetime, and I hope yours will, too.

For me, GW is truly a lifelong and worldwide community. Staying involved and connected is key. So I hope that after you leave you will come back and share your accomplishments, your research, your expertise, and even encourage your sons and daughters to come back here as well.

Today, as you embark on a new future, know that what you have learned here at GW will transcend the years you spent here. What you are and will be was shaped at this great institution. We are proud of you, as I know you will always be proud to say: I am a graduate of the George Washington University.

Congratulations to you all.

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.