Summer 2004

A Start to Life-Long Learning

Grads Honored at GW’s 2004 Commencement Celebration on the Ellipse

By Thomas Kohout

As if on cue as the fanfare signaled the start of GW’s 180th Commencement, early morning showers gave way to a brilliant sunny day as the University conferred 5,500 degrees during the May 16 ceremony on the Ellipse. The crowd of roughly 20,000 graduates, friends and family listened attentively as noted oncologist Dr. Luther W. Brady, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library Gail Paster, Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman, and the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili offered their counsel for the future.
Brady (BA ’46, MD ’48), among the foremost oncologists, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. In his remarks Brady welcomed the graduates into the fellowship of GW alumni and described the intangible gains he received during his time at the University.

“It gave me direction at a very critical time in my youth, ” said Brady. “It embedded in me the sense of responsible action. It gave me the sense of morals and ethics. It gave me a lifetime interest in ongoing inquiry, not being satisfied with rote events of one sort or another. It imbued in me the sense to innovate and to participate in research and to be a teacher. I think those were the platforms that made it possible for me to do what I have been able to do, plus all the really very good friends that I have throughout the world who’ve contributed to my development.”

Following the presentation of an honorary Doctor of Public Service, Nobel physicist Lederman reminded the audience that education is a life-long process.

He recalled that at one time Americans could spend the first 20 years of their lives learning, studying and then relying almost solely on that training for the rest of their lives.

“But using the education you have for the rest of your life doesn’t work any more. There’s a nice-sounding phrase called ‘lifelong learning.’ That’s no longer a slogan; it’s a necessity. Whether you’re getting a bachelor’s a degree, a master’s degree, or a PhD, it is absolutely essential that you keep learning.”

Many of the graduates groaned as Lederman cited statistics suggesting the average electrical engineering degree is obsolete after only three or four years.

“The world is changing with incredible rapidity,” Lederman added. “You have to keep learning. That’s an essential feature, I think, of our future.”

Paster, who accepted an honorary Doctor of Letters, praised the supportive and nurturing environment she found at GW during her tenure in the Department of English. That helped stretch her boundaries as an educator and researcher and eventually led to the position at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“Without that support,” Paster told the crowd, “without that encouragement, without that interest for my scholarship and for my teaching, I could not have been awarded the opportunity, the great gift, of becoming the director of one of the world’s great libraries.”

For his part, retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (MS ’70), joked about the University’s decision to grant him an honorary Doctor of Public Service.

“I’m sure that you recognize and will agree with me that to receive an honorary degree is by any measure an extraordinarily high honor,” Shalikashvili said. “But I tell you, to receive one from your alma mater is surely doubly so, because they not only know your shortcomings, in fact they have documented them.”

In a break from University tradition, GW selected two students as Commencement speakers — Adam Greenman and L. Trenton Marsh.

Greenman, who graduated summa cum laude and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political communication, spoke first. He described a chance encounter with a University Web site listing 101 things students should do while at GW. Last winter, as he and friends accomplished one of 101 — climb to the top of the Washington Monument — Greenman realized that the list was not merely an itinerary to be marked off one-by-one. Instead, each item carried a lesson.

“The moral I took from this story: The Washington Monument isn’t about the view; it’s about who you take in the view with.”

This fall Greenman will head off to Camden, NJ, where he will serve a two-year term teaching in the public school system as part of Teach for America.

Marsh, who earned a Master of Arts in human resource development from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, became the first African American male student to present the student address at GW Commencement.

“I was honored to be chosen,” beamed Marsh following the ceremony. “When I got here I had two goals, the first was to achieve a 4.0 grade point average [he missed that by just three one hundredths of a point]. The second was to be a Commencement speaker. I feel truly honored and blessed to speak at GW. It was only by God’s grace that I was selected.”

In his remarks Marsh noted that in addition to their training to become leaders in industry, the arts or public service, they also have been prepared and educated to be “personal leaders, leaders of our communities, leaders of our thinking and leaders of our individual destinies.”

“There are both voices and echoes in this world. Please do not only be an echo. Speak out and speak up. Let your own voice be that of a leader,” said Marsh. “I charge each and every graduate to exhibit integrity, character and excellence as you strive to make a difference in the world, a difference that can be successfully realized by seeking the opportunities to exert the leadership skills you have developed and enveloped at The George Washington University.”

President Trachtenberg turned his attention toward the impact recent terrorist actions have had on the world at large and on the GW community in particular, focusing on two lessons he learned from the train bombings in Madrid on March 11.

“When I heard about the bombings, my blood ran cold. My first thought, my first reaction, was GW has 36 students in a program in Madrid. Are they all right?”
The first lesson, said Trachtenberg, was how tangible the sense of community is at GW. “It is not an empty phrase or just convenient shorthand for referring to all the men and women who work and study here. ”

The second lesson was how the tragic events in Madrid are a signal to look at the world from a new point of view.

“The late statesman and former GW professor, Abba Eban, said, ‘There won’t be peace in the world until we love our children more than we hate our enemies.’ We have not yet learned to do that — it too has proved challenging,” Trachtenberg said. “But maybe not for you and your generation.”

The GW Law School closed the week of graduation celebrations May 23 with International Court of Justice Judge Thomas Buergenthal, the former Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence and director of the International and Comparative Law Program at GW, giving the keynote address. 

He took the opportunity to reflect on the demands a changing world is placing on the legal profession and on the American citizenry. Buergenthal noted that average citizens can no longer hide from the realities of globalization.

“The dividing line between international law and national law is becoming ever more blurred. The practice of law you are entering is no longer all local or national; it is increasingly more transnational or global in character, and this is regardless of what you plan to do with your law degree.”

He added that the globalization of the practice of law requires practitioners to sharpen their awareness of the significant impact international legal and political developments have on our law.

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