Summer 2009

Thousands Gather on National Mall for GW’s Commencement

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel delivers GW’s Commencement address.

An estimated 23,000 graduates, friends and families celebrated the University’s
2009 Commencement on the National Mall May 17. With the United States Capitol in the background, honorary degree recipients Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff; Jeanne Narum, director of Project Kaleidoscope and the Independent Colleges Office; and John Safer, B.A. ’47, world-renowned sculptor, urged graduates to become engaged citizens and dedicate time to public service. Student speakers Naomi Rapp, B.S. ’09, and Cosmin Florescu, M.A., M.P.H. ’09, encouraged students to stay strong when faced with adversity and uncertainty.

In his keynote address, Emanuel shared personal stories of times that tested his will,
courage and drive. From a life-threatening infection to a demotion during his time in the Clinton administration, Emanuel said he learned the value of life, humility and service from his setbacks. “Being forced to come back from that failure is why I’m standing here today,” said Emanuel. “You will have failures in your life, but it is what you do during those valleys that will determine the heights of your peaks.”

Advising graduates to learn from his mistakes, Emanuel said he is confident they will do “great things” upon leaving GW. “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,” he said. “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.” At the ceremony, GW President Steven Knapp granted Emanuel an honorary Doctor of Public Service, Narum a Doctor of Science, and Safer a Doctor of Fine Arts.

In his charge to the graduates, Dr. Knapp encouraged the students to continue participating in and engaging others in public service. “You are our future leaders and will no doubt make a real difference in the world. I know you will not only answer the call to service, you will continue to lead the way,” said Dr. Knapp. “As you go forth to do great things, always carry GW with you and always know that at the George Washington University you have a home in the heart of the nation’s capital.”

Also at the ceremony, the 2009 Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Prizes, given annually to outstanding faculty, were awarded to Professor of Math Joseph Bonin for teaching; Peter Hotez, Walter G. Ross professor of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine, for scholarship; and Professor of Hospital Administration Kurt
Darr for public service.

University community members were recognized for their service with the presentation
of the GW Awards to David Alan Grier, associate dean for academic affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs; Joshua E. Lasky, B.A. ’07, M.P.A. ’09, presidential administrative fellow; Timothy Miller, executive director of the Student Activities Center; and Christian Washington, B.A. ’06, J.D. ’09, Multi cultural Student Services Center program coordinator. Christopher Diaz, B.A. ’09, received the 2009 Manatt-rachtenberg
Prize, given to graduating students who have engaged the social and intellectual
conscience of the University, while displaying leadership, integrity and goodwill.

The University-wide Commencement was just one of many ceremonies and celebrations on Commencement weekend May 15-17. As traditional, the weekend began with the Interfaith Baccalaureate Service, held at Western Presbyterian Church on May 15, and featuring keynote speaker Rory Pullens, head of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

On the evening of May 16, graduates and their families put on their finest and partied
the night away with George and the Hippo at the Monumental Celebration in Union
Station. The Concourse Club was transformed with lights, live music, dessert bars and
large-scale recreations of local monuments.

The class of 2009 also celebrated at individual school celebrations, located at sites
across GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus.


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