A Monumental Commencement

Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” and host of “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” delivered the Commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at GW's Commencement ceremony Sunday.
May 20, 2012

Brian Williams praises graduates for achieving something he hasn’t—earning a college degree, urges them to “take us somewhere” in address on National Mall.

May 20, 2012

With the Washington Monument at their back, speakers at GW’s Commencement ceremony this morning told graduates to maintain their passion for service and learning and to continue contributing to the success of the nation.

Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” and host of “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” delivered the Commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the university before an estimated 25,000 graduates, friends and family members.

International business leader and humanitarian Carlos Slim and alumna and artist Clarice Smith were also awarded honorary degrees at the ceremony. 

Evangelist Alfreda Robinson, J.D. ’78, associate dean for trial advocacy for the Law School, delivered the invocation, and Lecturer in Music Millicent Scarlett sang the national anthem.

In welcoming remarks, President Steven Knapp lauded the graduates for their “outstanding achievements,” and noted this year’s Commencement was the 20th year the ceremony was held on national park grounds.

W. Russell Ramsey, B.B.A. ’81, chairman of the GW Board of Trustees, and Provost Steven Lerman also offered congratulations to the class of 2012.

Dr. Lerman paid tribute to the winners of the 2012 GW Award, one of the highest honors the university can bestow. This year’s awardees were Alyssa Abraham, B.A.’12; Nicholas J. Sampogna, B.A ’10, M.A. ’12; Gregory Maggs, professor of law; and Robert A. Chernak, senior vice provost and senior vice president for student and academic support services.

President of the GW Alumni Association Jim Core, M.A. ’96, recognized the alumni emeriti in the audience who graduated more than 50 years ago, and noted that this year’s Commencement marks the first time the university has more than a quarter of a million living alumni in its community. “The next chapter of your GW experience begins today,” he said.

Student speaker Noreen Kassam, B.A. ’12, highlighted the opportunities the university’s location affords its students and praised the strong culture of service at GW. She urged her fellow graduates to keep giving back.

“Class of 2012, I would tell you to take what you have learned and go change the world, but I know that in your own ways, so many of you already have,” she said. “So instead I will say this, to each of you: regardless of where you are from or where you are going, my charge to you is simple—I hope you do well, but more importantly, I hope you do good.”

Honorary degree recipient Mr. Slim advised the class of 2012 to learn from their mistakes, follow their conscience, and live “fully and intensely” in the present.

“With your education, talents and network, it is your time to work for the right changes. It is your time to make a better world,” he said. “In the end, we leave without anything, but we shall leave behind a better world for our children, and most importantly, better children for our world.”

Ms. Smith, B.A. ’76, M.F.A. ’79, said she “deeply appreciated” the honorary degree.

“When I graduated in the ’70s, I didn’t attend my graduation because, as a mature woman, I felt too embarrassed to walk in the procession with all the young people,” she said. “I’m glad I waited 40 years for this, because I certainly wouldn’t have heard all those nice things said about me.”

In his address, Mr. Williams told graduates that a last-minute weekend spent near Catholic University with a friend opened his eyes to Washington, D.C., where he studied briefly at Catholic University and George Washington while interning at the White House.

“I like to say to people that I was in a big hurry, and I needed to go make a living and I never looked back,” he said. “But the truth is—as the last college I attended, I can tell you—I look back every day. I look in the mirror, and it’s one of my great regrets. Don’t forget that by being here today you have now achieved something I was not able to achieve.”

Noting the ceremony’s location near the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Mr. Williams recalled some of the United States’ space missions, saying that with each one, safety and success was uncertain, but it was important to press on for the future of the nation—and GW graduates should do the same.

“You don’t actually have to build a rocket or go into space, but please take us somewhere,” he told graduates. “Please keep us moving, push us, lift us up, make us better. Remember this, as I leave you: again, as of today, you’ve achieved what I could not. Congratulations, god bless, go achieve some more.”

Dr. Knapp concluded the ceremony by delivering his charge to the graduates—asking them to “keep alive” their commitment to service, their academic curiosity and their respect for others—and conferring their degrees.
“You are our future,” he told the class of 2012. “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. And as you go forth to do these things, always know that, at the George Washington University, you have a home in the heart of this nation’s capital.”

Lorraine Voles, vice president for external relations, called the ceremony “spectacular.” “Commencement is a university-wide effort, and today the university put on quite a show. The speakers spoke from the heart, under sunny skies and our students responded with their customary joie de vivre.”

The university ceremony was just one of more than 20 events—including a doctoral hooding ceremony, Phi Beta Kappa induction and Interfaith Baccalaureate—held during GW’s Commencement weekend, May 17-20.

Dr. Knapp also celebrated with graduates in Kogan Plaza May 17 with a toast recognizing their record-breaking 50 percent participation in the 2012 senior class gift. The class raised $42,613, with each gift allocated to a GW department, organization, school or scholarship of the student’s choosing.

As a result of the seniors’ 50 percent participation, GW trustee Nelson Carbonell, B.S. ’85, and his wife, Michele, honored their “50 for 50 Challenge” from January by donating $50,000 to George Washington’s Power & Promise Fund, which supports student financial aid.

Each school held its own celebration during Commencement weekend. Notable speakers included Diane Rehm, host of National Public Radio’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” for the School of Public Health and Health Services; U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz, J.D. ’81, for the Law School; Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., for the College of Professional Studies; and GW trustee Linda Rabbitt, founder, chief executive officer and chairman of Rand Construction, for the School of Business.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, addressed graduates at the university’s Interfaith Baccalaureate Saturday.

Congratulations GW Class of 2012

Commencement Highlights