Alumni Offer Advice to the Class of 2019

GW alumni offer words of wisdom to those poised to follow in their footsteps.

commencement cap
April 29, 2019

As undergraduate and graduate students in the Class of 2019 prepare for George Washington University’s Commencement, GW Today asked alumni to offer advice about achieving success in careers and in life. Alumni who have made impacts in government, science, media, entertainment and other industries responded.

Here, in their own words, are the first group of dispatches from GW alumni:

Christyl JohnsonDon’t sell yourself short!  No one knows everything about anything, so don’t allow your perceived lack of expertise to keep you from offering your ideas to the conversation. Your idea could be just the outside-the-box thinking that is needed to enable the next big innovation.

—Christyl Johnson, Ph.D. ’12
Deputy Director for Technology & Research Investments, NASA Goddard



Chris CerboBreaking into a career may seem impossible—it can even feel that way years later! But don’t be afraid to chase what excites you and find a way into your dream job. Remember, you can learn a lot from people who have already been where you want to be and who are willing to share not only how they succeeded, but also how they’ve failed.

—Chris Cerbo, B.A. ’95
Senior Vice President, Marketing Partnerships, Twentieth Century Fox


Gil CisnerosYou all have the ability to influence and make a difference in somebody’s life, and you should.  Give back to your community and create opportunities for others. There is no greater feeling than making a difference in the life of another person.

—Gil Cisneros, B.A. ’94
Member of Congress (D-Calif.)



Jennifer MaherKeep an open mind and make sure you have grit and perseverance. When you are getting started with your career and trying new things, the highs are high, and the lows are really low.  Make sure you have a professional and personal support system to help you through the tough times.

—Jennifer L. Maher, B.A. ’04
Chief Executive Officer, 1776



Alex NyergesFirst, be passionate about life. Life is short; tomorrow comes quickly. Second, follow your passions, be they your career, avocation or family. Finally, dream big. One never achieves happiness without reaching beyond what you thought, or what others have told you, are your limits. Oh, and have fun. Life is great.

—Alex Nyerges, B.A. '79, M.A. ’82
Director, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts



Dan SimonsAs my Dad said, ‘Do what you love, and the money will come. Or it won’t come, but it won’t matter, because you’ll be happy doing what you’re doing so you’ll do it incredibly well.’ I promise, that’ll pay more dividends than chasing the money.

—Dan Simons, B.B.A. ’92
Owner, Founding Farmers



Emily BarrRecognition and success will only be meaningful if you experience disappointment and failure.  After working for almost 40 years, I can say, unequivocally, that I value work and appreciate what I have been able to accomplish, but I cherish my family and true friends even more. Work hard, be kind and always strive to do better.

—Emily Barr, M.B.A. ’86
President & CEO, Graham Media Group


Edward Skip GnehmTo succeed in the diplomatic sphere, you need strong leadership skills combined with a healthy dose of humility. An engaging personality that respects people for who they are is essential. When you are just starting out, my best advice is to persevere. Things will not always develop the way you anticipated they would, but don’t become discouraged. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What new opportunity is here that wasn’t here before?’

—Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, B.A. ’66, M.A. ’68
Kuwait Professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Affairs, Vice Dean, Elliott School; former U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, Jordan and Australia


Claritza JimenezPractice listening to yourself. What is it that you really, really want? Not what sounds good or looks good on paper. Only you have the answer to that. Do quality work no matter how crappy the job might be. Learn to manage your money, especially if you are a woman.

—Claritza Jimenez, B.A. ’05
Senior Producer, POLITICO



Q Golparvar Don’t be afraid to move across the country or across the globe for your dream job. Moving to a new area will open up opportunities that you can’t even imagine. I would not be where I am right now if I didn’t accept my legal job with the U.S. government requiring me to move from the East Coast to Arizona working as an assistant chief counsel with the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

—Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar, B.A. ’98
U.S. Immigration Judge and Visiting Associate Professor of Law, GW Law


David HoltBe grateful for whatever it is you are about to accomplish professionally. It’s healthy to be ambitious but don’t let ambition cause you to miss out on the pride you will deserve to feel.

—David Holt, B.A. ’01
Mayor, Oklahoma City



Merry AdlerThe key to finding ‘success’ and being ‘successful’ always involves something you love to do. Time moves on your own clock so be patient but know your interests and strengths. I believe success ultimately finds you, and once it does, it will beam like a shiny star—and  that is success. 

—Merry Adler, B.A. ’82, M.A. ’83
Author, “Grandmothers Who Inspired Us from Across the World - A Collection of 31 Memoirs”


Kenneth MoritsuguPublic health reaches, touches and impacts every aspect of our society — and every aspect of our society has an impact on public health. In public health, we do not act in a vacuum, but are inexorably linked with each other. Keep the individual at the center of everything we do, the individual as the fundamental unit of our communities. As professionals in public health, we have the power to improve the here and now, as well as to touch the future!

—Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D. ’71
Retired Rear Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service
Chair, Milken Institute School of Public Health Dean’s Council


Clifford StearnsThere is a Greek word that provides a measure for graduates to use when selecting a new career. The word is ‘MERAKI,’ which means when you decide on a career do so with passion.  Put creativity, love and a piece of your soul into your work.

—Clifford Stearns, B.S. ’63
Former Florida Republican congressman

Student Life, Commencement


Seniors Share Favorite GW Memories

April 22, 2019

In their own words, graduating seniors talk about their most memorable moments during their time at the university.

SMPA’s Tyriana Evans Named 2019 Commencement Student Speaker

April 01, 2019

The B.A. candidate in journalism and mass communication will speak about overcoming fear.

NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie Will Be GW’s Commencement Speaker

March 27, 2019

Cindy McCain, alumna Christine Darden also will receive honorary degrees at the May 19 ceremony.