ALEXANDER BROWN/THE HOYA Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (GRD '74) spoke at the SFS commencement ceremony.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (GRD ’74) spoke at the SFS commencement ceremony.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (GRD ’74) urged members of the School of Foreign Service’s Class of 2014 to pursue public service and recognize the United States’ responsibility in the global arena Saturday.

The ceremony, which honored the conferral of bachelors of science to the graduating seniors, began at 3 p.m.

Gates received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters “for his leadership on foreign policy and his exemplary contribution to the security of the American people and the troops that defend them,” according to the degree citation, read by Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies Director Angela Stent.

SFS Dean’s Medal recipient Michael Reher (SFS ’14) led the procession of graduates, who received their diplomas from University President John J. DeGioia and SFS Associate Dean Ambassador Andrew Steigman.

“I assume, as usual, most of these graduates will work in some place other than America’s diplomatic corps, but I’m assuming … whatever brought you here was a curiosity about the wider world,” Gates said in his address.

He cautioned against a political trend toward isolationism, citing the United States’ powerful position as obligation to participate in world affairs and conflicts. Gates, whose Georgetown doctorate is in Russian and Soviet history, identified a swath of conflict zones and troubled areas, specifically mentioning Ukraine and the encroaching Russia of Vladimir Putin.

“Americans have the tendency to avert their eyes,” he said, identifying soft power as a powerful weapon in the United States’ arsenal. “Accepting our responsibilities and being engaged in war is not synonymous with launching our military at the drop of a hat. … Our leaders must become more skilled at using the full toolkit of national power.”

Gates outlined the United States’ ability to influence world affairs and cautioned against a waning dedication to global responsibility.

“For any given cause or crisis, if America does not lead, what needs to be done does not get done. So it falls to you … to pick up the mantles,” he said.

He challenged the graduates to engage in public service at some point in their lives.

“My parting question to you, as graduates, is simply whether the wise men and women of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service will devote some of their lives to public good,” Gates said. “Dare I say, it is your duty.”

Chris Fisk (COL ’17), who attended to hear the speech and witness commencement, admired Gates’ speech.

“Dr. Gates was witty, insightful and profound. His distinguished background, buttressed by his humility and humor is really what made his address stick. He put forth a call to service that I believe many SFS graduates will accept as their duty,” Fisk said.

SFS Acting Dean James Reardon-Anderson led the commencement exercises. Reardon-Anderson, Gates, and Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., all offered prayers for Dean Emerita Carol Lancaster (SFS ’64), who is currently in hospice care after a December operation on a brain tumor. Lancaster stepped down as Dean of the School of Foreign Service in early April, after taking a leave of absence in November.

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