The Elliott School’s Meenu Mathews Named 2018 Commencement Student Speaker

The B.A. candidate in international affairs will speak on opening the doors to opportunity.

Meenu Mathews will share her story at the 2018 Commencement ceremony. (Photos: Harrison Jones/GW Today)
March 26, 2018

By Briahnna Brown

On a family trip to D.C., when Meenu Mathews was 10 years old, she told her parents who immigrated to the United States that, one day, she was going to be president of the United States.

Ten years later, Ms. Mathews, as a White House intern, held the door and watched as her parents walked through the West Wing. She then reflected on the doors her family—and families like hers—opened for her by coming to this country with dreams of a better life.

Ms. Mathews, a graduating senior majoring in international affairs, was selected on Friday to be the 2018 Commencement student speaker and will share her story with 25,000 George Washington University graduates and their families on May 20 on the National Mall, a place she said she has always loved.

Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, will also speak to graduates at the Commencement ceremony where she will be awarded an honorary doctorate along with three-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, B.S. ’07.

In addition to being a White House intern under President Barack Obama, Ms. Mathews has interned with CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” She also has held leadership roles in the Student Association, the Pre-Law Student Association and the Indian Students’ Association. After she graduates, Ms. Mathews hopes to continue working in politics and journalism.


Meenu Mathews delivering her speech before the judges during a live audition at the student speaker competition.

“I'm so humbled and so grateful for this opportunity,” Ms. Mathews said. “These past four years have given me so many opportunities, and I'm really grateful to share that.”

The contestants were judged on five criteria: content (what they say), delivery (how they say it), student appeal, general audience appeal and how memorable or moving their message is.

The judges included Allison Bejar, a graduating senior in the Elliott School of International Affairs; Chris Bracey, vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of law; Helen Cannaday, associate provost for diversity, equity and communication engagement; and Jean Miller, assistant professor of communication and chair of the student speaker competition.

Lorraine Voles, vice president for external relations, was also one of the judges and announced the winner on Friday. She said all the student Commencement speaker finalists were exceptional, and that the university is fortunate to have undergraduate and graduate students with “such poise and captivating GW experiences to share.”

“I am so excited for our community to hear from Meenu at Commencement,” Ms. Voles said. “She has an important and inspirational story to share.”

Since 1992, the Commencement student speaker competition has been a tradition at GW where a graduating senior or graduate student is selected to represent their class during the Commencement ceremony. This year, 62 GW students submitted their speeches for review and five were selected as finalists by six first-round judges. By being selected from the five after the live auditions, Ms. Mathews will receive special commemorative Commencement photos, additional tickets to the ceremony and an invitation to the official Commencement dinner the evening before the ceremony.

"I hope that the GW community takes away [from my speech] that every single action that we've taken already, and all the actions that we will take in the future, will have such a big impact on the people around us and really can create a difference, not just in Washington but in the world," Ms. Mathews said.

University News


National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt Will Deliver GW Commencement Address

March 05, 2018
Three-time Olympic medalist and GW alumna Elana Meyers Taylor will be awarded an honorary degree.