A Capitol Commencement

May 16, 2010

First Lady Michelle Obama urges GW’s class of 2010 to stay engaged in their communities and the world in address on National Mall.

With the United States Capitol in the background, more than 25,000 graduates, friends and families celebrated the university’s 2010 Commencement on May 16.

Honorary degree recipients First Lady Michelle Obama; Dave Brubeck, renowned jazz pianist and composer; and A. James Clark, chairman and CEO of Clark Enterprises Inc., joined GW President Steven Knapp in congratulating graduating Colonials.

W. Russell Ramsey, B.B.A. ’81, chairman of the GW Board of Trustees, welcomed the graduates and asked them to thank those who supported them during their years at GW.

Student speaker Zoe Petkanas, B.A. ’10, reflected on the unique experiences she had while at GW, including standing on the National Mall for President Obama’s Inauguration.

Reminding her fellow classmates that their college experience was not “typical,” she thanked them for pushing her and inspiring her to do her best. “Honestly, I can’t think of a group of people more qualified to tackle the world’s problems than this year’s graduating class,” said Ms. Petkanas, who was selected as student speaker through a university-wide competition.

At the ceremony, President Knapp granted Mrs. Obama an honorary Doctor of Public Service, Mr. Brubeck a Doctor of Music, and Mr. Clark a Doctor of Engineering.

In his introduction of the first lady, Dr. Knapp showed a video chronicling GW’s service activities and announced that GW has completed 163,980 service hours, far exceeding the 100,000 requested by Mrs. Obama.

Calling the class of 2010 “extraordinary,” Mrs. Obama thanked the graduates for their “incredible contributions” and urged them to continue to serve their communities and the world. “For every ill of this interconnected world, you’ve tried to find a way to make good,” said Mrs. Obama. “Where there’s hate, you’ve tried to heal it. Where there’s need, you’ve tried to fill it. Where there’s devastation, you’ve tried to rebuild it.”

Mrs. Obama said she received letters “filled with wonderful stories” each month detailing the university's progress in meeting her service challenge.

“You guys can’t be stopped,” she said. “You don’t know the meaning of the word can’t. And every time someone’s tried to say to tell you that, you’ve replied, ‘Oh, yes we can.’”

Mrs. Obama issued a final challenge to the graduates: “Keep going. Keep giving. Keep engaging.”

“From what I’ve seen from your class,” she said, “I have no doubt that you will.”

In his charge to the graduates, Dr. Knapp asked the class of 2010 to “keep alive” their commitment to service, their academic curiosity and their respect for others. “You are our future. We depend on you to repair what earlier generations have broken, to build what we have left unbuilt, to learn what we have not yet learned, to heal what we have so far left unhealed,” said Dr. Knapp.

Also at the ceremony, winners of some of GW’s most prestigious awards were recognized, including the Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Prizes, given this year to Bruce Dickson, professor of political science and international affairs; John Lachin, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics; and Honey Nashman, associate professor of human services and sociology.

Dr. Knapp also paid tribute to university community members honored for service with the GW Awards: Larrie Greenberg, clinical professor of pediatrics; Brian Hawthorne, B.A.’10, president of GW Veterans Organization; Rachelle Heller, associate dean for academic affairs at GW’s Mount Vernon Campus; and Judith Plotz, professor of English.

Amanda Jo Formica, B.A.’10, who received the 2010 Manatt-Trachtenberg Prize, was honored as well.

“It was a spectacular day for GW,” said Michael Peller, assistant vice president for events and venues. “What a great way to celebrate having Mrs. Obama with us today.”

The university-wide Commencement ceremony was just one of more than 20 events held during GW’s Commencement weekend, May 12-16, including a doctoral hooding ceremony, Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony and individual school celebrations.

In the university’s senior class day celebration held May 13, Dr. Knapp toasted graduates for their record-breaking participation in the 2010 Senior Class Gift. The class raised a total of $74, 838 to renovate the first floor of GW’s Gelman Library.

The traditional Interfaith Baccalaureate, held at Western Presbyterian Church on May 15, featured keynote speaker John Edward Hasse, curator of American music at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Members of the GW Music Department performed works composed by Mr. Brubeck.

That evening, graduates and their families put on their finest and partied the night away with George and the Hippo at the annual Monumental Celebration in Union Station. The Concourse Club was transformed with lights, live music and dessert bars.

“The university celebrated Commencement in many ways and with a variety of events, culminating with today’s great event on the mall,” said Mr. Peller. “Many people contributed to its success from all parts of the university.”

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