Kerry Washington to Be Commencement Speaker

The award-winning actor, activist and alumna will address George Washington University graduates and guests on the National Mall May 19.

kerry washington actress scandal commencement speaker
Kerry Washington will deliver this year's Commencement address. Photo courtesy Craig Sjodin/ABC.
March 18, 2013

Kerry Washington will return to her alma mater this spring to address graduates at the George Washington University’s Commencement ceremony on the National Mall May 19.

Ms. Washington, B.A. ’98, who graduated from the university magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa and previously served as a Board of Trustees member, will also receive an honorary degree.

“I am delighted that Ms. Washington has agreed to give the Commencement address,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp, noting that she is emblematic of GW’s commitment to the arts. “She has captured the imagination of our students, and they will benefit greatly, as they head out into the world, from hearing her perspective both as an alumna and as a highly successful actor on stage, in film and on television.”

Ms. Washington’s successes include her role as Broomhilda von Schaft in “Django Unchained,” which was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best picture, and as Della Bea Robinson in “Ray,” for which she earned the NAACP Image Award for outstanding actress in a motion picture.

The Bronx native has also received NAACP Image Award nominations for her performances in the 2006 film “The Last King of Scotland” and the 2010 film “Night Catches Us.” And her performance in the 2008 film “Lakeview Terrace” earned her a best actress nomination at the BET Awards.

On TV, Ms. Washington stars as the fiercely savvy crisis communications consultant Olivia Pope in ABC’s “Scandal,” helping high-profile D.C. clients protect their images. But Ms. Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope has done more than entertain; it has broken barriers. She is the first African American woman to headline a network TV show since 1974. She and the show, currently in its second season, have won NAACP Image Awards.

Ms. Washington—who was a resident assistant in Thurston during her junior year—is also an activist. She was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and adopted Savoy Elementary School in Anacostia under the committee’s Turnaround Arts Initiative. She is also a member of the V-Counsel, a group of advisers to V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls.

The university has a history of attracting high-profile Commencement speakers to address roughly 25,000 graduates and guests in the university’s backyard on the National Mall. Previous Commencement speakers include Brian Williams, “NBC Nightly News” anchor; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; First Lady Michelle Obama; Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama; former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush; and then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.