Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, United States Agency for International Development Administrator Gayle Smith, Humana CEO Bruce Broussard, National League for Nursing CEO Beverly Malone and National Geographic Social Environmental Advocate Alexandra Cousteau are among 11 speakers addressing students during Georgetown’s commencement weekend.
A total of 10 ceremonies will be held for Georgetown’s schools. Smith addressed students in the McCourt School of Public Policy yesterday evening, while Disability Rights International founder and Executive Director Eric David Rosenthal (LAW ’72) will address students graduating from the Georgetown Law Center on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the weekend’s final ceremony.
Smith said she hopes students will understand the role they can play in making the world a better place after her address.
“The graduates will have so many opportunities to do good in the world. I hope they remember what an extraordinary privilege that is, and I hope they pursue opportunities that challenge and stretch them, and that leave the world a better place than when they found it,” Smith wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Johnson will address students from the School of Foreign Service at 6 p.m. Saturday. Johnson, who previously served as general counsel of the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012, has sought to improve the department’s ability to respond to threats and has overseen the Obama administration’s laws. Johnson will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Johnson’s planned address and honorary degree conferral have been met with resistance by undocumented students and allies. As of 8 p.m. Thursday, 742 students, faculty and alumni have signed an online petition launched by Hemly Ordonez (SFS ’08) asking the university to rescind Johnson’s invitation due to the Department of Homeland Security’s role in the deportation of individuals, while 442 people have signed an online petition headed by Reed Howard (COL ’17) pushing for the university to keep Johnson as commencement speaker on the grounds of free speech as of 8 p.m. Thursday.
SFS Dean Joel Hellman said the school expected passionate responses given Johnson’s role as a public servant.
“That’s what we can hope and expect of our best public servants: that they’re trying to find ways to move issues forward in a very very complex environment where they’re going to gain a lot of opponents and supporters,” Hellman said. “We knew that any cabinet secretary we select will have deep and passionate supporters and deep and passionate opponents and that that’s part of the business of public service that we’re training and engaging students in the SFS to do.”
Hellman said Johnson’s work in the Department of Homeland Security is particularly important for graduating students from the SFS.
“The issues that Jeh Johnson is working on — migration, international and homeland security, disaster response, the Ebola crisis, a whole range of things — we felt that these were some of the most important and pressing issues globally and in the United States. And so we thought it was a good time for us to highlight the importance of those issues,” Hellman said.
Johnson — who writes his own speeches — will use input from meetings held with undocumented students and student leaders Monday in developing his remarks, according to Hellman.
“He created a remarkable environment for our undocumented students to actually talk to him, the cabinet secretary responsible for immigration policy and issues, about sharing their experiences and sharing their concerns,” Hellman said. “And I believe — and we’ll see what happens on Saturday — but I believe that’s had an impact on what he wants to talk about and how.”
Hellman said he hopes students will better value the balance between their personal beliefs and making political progress after Johnson’s remarks.
“Namely the types of moral and ethical dilemmas that a public servant has in trying to make progress in a very, very complex political environment on very difficult and sensitive issues. And often — and he discussed this in detail with students — that requires choices that he’s had to make in the course of his life that actually sometimes go against his own personal conviction but were necessary to make incremental progress in the areas that he was working on,” Hellman said.
Cousteau, who is the daughter of renowned filmmaker Jacques Yves-Cousteau, will address students in the College at 9 a.m. Saturday. Cousteau’s career has centered on environmental issues; she founded EarthEcho international, an organization that helps young people develop solutions to environmental problems, with her brother Philippe Cousteau in 2000. Cousteau also founded Blue Legacy, a charity that seeks to use storytelling to encourage environmental protection, in 2008.
College Dean Chester Gillis said Cousteau’s work with the environment makes her a particularly suitable speaker for Georgetown.
“It could be public policy, it could be from the natural sciences, it could be from a legal perspective, it could be from the historical perspective, that this is an important element of our curriculum, it’s an important element of what we do at Georgetown,” Gillis said. “So it fits academically with what we do, as well as ethically. And I do think it’s something students are very interested in.”
Gillis said he expects Cousteau’s address to leave a lasting impression on graduating students.
“I think it’s one of the most intimidating things for any speaker to be asked to give a graduation speech, because the stakes are so high, and because the expectations are so high. And we want it to be memorable, we want it to be inspiring, we want it to touch the entire audience if possible,” Gillis said. “All that’s again a tall order to do. I think she’ll do it.”
Cousteau, who will also receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, could not be reached for comment before 8 p.m. Thursday.
Malone, the former general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in the U.K., will address students from the School of Nursing and Health Studies at 12 p.m. Saturday. Malone has advocated on the shortage of nurses and nurse educators in the United States, as well as the importance of nursing in serving diverse communities.
Malone said her speech will focus on the importance of decision-making and leadership skills.
“I’ll be talking about sort of the fork in the road,” Malone said. “Robert Frost speaks about how it’s a nice time to have that opportunity of [asking], ‘Which way do I go?’ And the excitement that goes with it, and at the same time, the [tugging] of the heart and how should I choose which way and if I am going to make the right decision. All of those things. And leadership of course, because I think that that’s always a big part of life.”
Malone said she hopes students take away the importance of caregivers taking care of themselves.
“I always think about while you’re taking care of others, make sure you take care of yourself. And that those who take care of themselves will have more to give for people that they care for. And if you don’t take good care of yourself, you have less to give to those you are providing services to and for,” Malone said.
Malone will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
Undergraduate students in the McDonough School of Business will hear from Broussard at 3 p.m. Saturday. Broussard has worked in the health care industry for almost 30 years. Broussard became President of Humana, a health insurance company, in 2011, before being appointed President and CEO in 2013. Before joining Humana, Broussard was the chairman and CEO of McKesson Specialty/US Oncology, Inc.
Broussard said his address will focus on the importance of perseverance and service to others.
“I will share some of the highs and lows of my journey, particularly how critical the lowest points in my life were to shaping who I am today. These experiences pushed me to discover what really matters in life, they taught me about courage and how sometimes you must ‘put it all on the line’ to stand for what you believe,” Broussard wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I also discovered the power of serving others and the unmatchable reward and joy this brings: life-changing for everyone involved.”
According to Broussard, graduates from the MSB will play an important role in altering the role businesses play in society.
“It’s the business leaders of the future who will play a key role in leading a paradigm shift — to a business model that takes a more holistic approach, and one that enables companies to do well by doing good. This shift requires a new leadership approach. I believe Georgetown puts all the necessary tools in the toolbox to develop the leader characteristics necessary for this new approach,” Broussard wrote.
Broussard will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Smith featured in the commencement ceremony for the McCourt School. Before her appointment as USAID director in 2015, Smith was a Special Assistant to the president of the United States and senior director for development and democracy at the U.S. National Security Council. Smith also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Elena Poniatowska Amor — a journalist, novelist and poet and the first woman to receive Mexico’s National Journalism Award — will address students graduating from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences today at 9 a.m. Daniel Pink, author of The New York Times bestsellers “A Whole New Mind,” “Drive” and “To Sell is Human,” will address graduating students in the School of Continuing Studies at 3:30 p.m. today, and Penny Pritzker, the U.S. secretary of commerce since 2013, will address MBA students at 12:30 p.m. today.
Stanford University professor of medicine Kelley Michael Skeff will feature in the Georgetown School of Medicine’s commencement ceremony at 11 a.m. Sunday.
Rosenthal and World Trade Organization Appellate Body Member Zhang Yuejiao will receive honorary Doctor of Laws degrees, while Skeff will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Amor, Pink and Pritzker will receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees.
Correction: This article previously stated Broussard joined Humana as CEO in 2011; Broussard joined Humana as President in 2011 and became President and CEO in 2013.