After a months-long selection process led by the deans of each Georgetown school, commencement speakers for tomorrow’s undergraduate ceremonies include former Defense Secretary Robert Gates (GRD ’74), former AOL CEO Steve Case, Vatican astronomer Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., and American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Alan Leshner.
Consolmagno will speak at the College commencement ceremony on Healy Lawn at 9 a.m., followed by Leshner at the School of Nursing & Health Studies ceremony at 12 p.m. Gates will address School of Foreign Service graduates at 3 p.m., and Case will speak to McDonough School of Business graduates at 6 p.m.
George Thibault (CAS ’65), president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, which works to improve health care in the United States, will address the Georgetown University Medical Center graduating class at 11 a.m. Sunday. Longtime adjunct law professor Kenneth Feinberg, who served as special master for the Federal September 11 Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 and administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, will be the final commencement speaker at the Georgetown University Law Center ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday.
All commencement speakers will receive honorary degrees, and none will be paid for their lectures.
Many commencement speakers have past connections with Georgetown. Gates, Thibault and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew (LAW ’83), who addressed McCourt School of Public Policy graduates Thursday, attended the university, and Feinberg taught at the law school from 1978 to 2010 and plans to return in spring 2015.
Consolmagno is a member of the Jesuits’ Maryland Province, which includes Georgetown, and he knows several Jesuits at the university, including Fr. Dave Collins, S.J., and Fr. John Langan, S.J.
Leshner, who will address the NHS, is a long-time associate of NHS Dean Martin Iguchi. Case visited campus in April to participate in Georgetown University Women in Leadership’s Own It Summit as a panelist, and the Case Foundation committed $100,000 to the MSB’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative.
In Georgetown’s traditional vein of seeking commencement speakers, each of this year’s guests’ history and career relates in some way to the specific school he or she will be addressing.
Graduation ceremonies began Thursday with Lew’s McCourt School address, in which he discussed the importance of public service in the face of partisan gridlock.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt Jr. (CAS ’75), who donated $100 million to found the school in September, attended the ceremony.
“When Americans choose a divided government, they expect us to work out our differences, and that’s where you come in,” Lew told McCourt School graduates. “If any generation can break down those walls, it’s yours.”
Gates, who served as secretary of defense from 2006 to 2011, said he will discuss public service and the importance of international engagement in his speech to SFS graduates.
After earning his doctorate from Georgetown in Russian and Soviet studies “40 years ago this week,” Gates originally planned to pursue a career in academia.
“My plan once I got my Ph.D. was to go out and teach. I had no intention of making CIA or government a career, and literally within a matter of days or weeks of getting my degree, I was invited by [Henry Kissinger and former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft] to take the Soviet job on the National Security Council staff,” Gates said. “I told my wife I’d do that for a couple of years and then I’d go teach, and then they kept offering me interesting jobs and all of a sudden it was decades later.”
As the SFS Class of 2014 graduates, Gates compared foreign service today to when he entered.
“I think that service is more dangerous in more places than it was in 1966. We were at the height of the Cold War and we were at the height of the Vietnam War, but the rest of the world was relatively calm at that time,” Gates said. “I think that whole environment is much more challenging now. I think another aspect that has remained the same, I think unfortunately, is that congressmen don’t understand the importance of our non-military parts of our national security and foreign policy, and so funding for the State Department and [the Agency for International Development] and other such agencies continues to be a struggle.”
In his lecture to College graduates, Consolmagno will talk about the importance of joy and surprise in scholarly endeavors.
“If you don’t have any joy in what you’re doing, if you don’t have any joy in being a scholar, what’s the point of it all?” Consolmagno said via Skype from Rome.
That sense of surprise, he said, relates to his work at the Vatican Observatory, where he curates the Vatican meteorite collection, among other research.
“A lot of people are delighted to know that astronomy, which in one sense seems utterly useless — you’re not going to be rich doing astronomy — and yet it is something everybody’s fascinated by,” Consolmagno said. “I think there’s a deeper message there that it’s important for us as human beings to have things that are more than what’s going to get you a job or put food on the table, but something that feeds your soul.”
Leshner said his address to the NHS will cover what makes a rewarding career, as related to his own experience, which he said has followed a non-linear path.
Case hopes that MSB graduates will capitalize on unique opportunities to make a difference.
“I am confident they will take the skills and knowledge they’ve gained from their time at Georgetown and use it to solve the world’s biggest challenges — and am hopeful that many will choose an entrepreneurial path, as business (and startups in particular) can be an important agent of change,” Case said in a statement.
In his lecture to School of Medicine graduates, Thibault will discuss his father, who was also a doctor, and the changes in medicine that have occurred since he practiced.
“I think the prospects for helping people have never been better,” Thibault said. “A lot has changed in medicine, but that represents a lot of opportunity for the next generation to participate in medicine, to make the health care system even better and continue to make improvements not only in the science of medicine, but also how we go about delivering better care more efficiently.”
At the Law Center, Feinberg will honor the school’s former dean, Robert Pitofsky, a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission who brought Feinberg to Georgetown in 1978 and will be in attendance Sunday.
“I’ll be talking about the communitarian ethic, the idea that public service is a noble calling and that serving the public interest is very important, that every individual can make a difference in their own way and that we have to get over this polarization that now grips the country and prevents progress,” Feinberg said.
When the university released its lineup of commencement speakers May 1, student reaction varied, with some students expressing disappointment with the choices through social media and elsewhere. Beth Anne Kadien (COL ’14) was one of a few students to respond to these complaints with her own post.
“I saw not a ton, five or six statuses, being like, ‘Oh cool I get an astronomer who, cares about that,’ being sarcastic and whiny about it,” Kadien said. “It made me write my Facebook post because people were being ungrateful and not seeing the bigger picture, not looking into what the speaker has done. I think the general consensus was people need to stop complaining and this could be a really cool thing.”
Other commencement speakers include Seyla Benhabib, the Eugene Meyer professor of political science and philosophy at Yale University, for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences ceremony; Roger Ferguson, CEO of financial service company TIAA-CREF, for MBA graduates; and University of Pennsylvania School of Design Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor at the School of Continuing Studies.
Hoya Staff Writer TM Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.