Senior Alexander Zafran Named 2013 Student Commencement Speaker

Classics major tapped to represent the graduating class of 2013 on May 19.

Student Speaker Competition Winner Alexander Zafran and President Steven Knapp.
2013 Commencement student speaker Alexander Zafran poses for a congratulatory photo with President Steven Knapp.
April 15, 2013

Senior Alexander Zafran was selected the 2013 student Commencement speaker by a panel of staff, faculty and student judges on Friday.

The classical studies major made use of his Latin roots in a stirring speech that underscored core GW values— leadership, service and education.

“I thought I might be able to convey the development that GW facilitates,” Mr. Zafran said, noting that, though he entered as a political science major, it was the “resources, opportunity and support” that GW offered that allowed him to flourish and find his way to the classical studies program.

Ten finalists, representing four schools and 10 degree programs, delivered their speeches before the panel to vie for the coveted opportunity.  Each offered a different perspective on the George Washington experience.

Among the finalists were seniors Edward Churchill, Marielena Faria, Ben Leighton, Krista Mancini, Jeffrey Messina, Julia Navarro and Mr. Zafran, as well as graduate students Amanda Castroverde, Jordan Chaffin and Rob Maxim.

President Steven Knapp announced the winner and shook hands with Mr. Zafran, who appeared pleased and shocked at the decision.

“I think it’s a great exercise for students at the end of their academic careers to pause and reflect on their experience and try to put that into words,” Dr. Knapp said. “It really tightens their connection to the institution.”

Students highlighted the tenacity of their fellow classmates, the expertise of the faculty, as well as the university’s unparalleled location and their ability to witness history in their own backyard— the National Mall.

“Each of the students who participated in the competition was inspirational,” said Lorraine Voles, vice president for external relations. “Choosing this year’s winner was one of the more difficult decisions we’ve had to make.”

Mr. Zafran managed to stand out against the competition, and with 47 entries it was no easy feat. He credits his background in Latin studies as the key to his win.

“As a classics major, your focus is always on writing and the art of rhetoric,” Mr. Zafran said. “Not necessarily political rhetoric, but how to construct meaning and convey a message.”

He will join GW alumni Commencement speaker Kerry Washington, B.A. ’98, and honorary degree recipients Thad Allen, M.P.A ’86, and Harriet M. Fulbright, M.F.A. ’75, on stage for the ceremony on May 19.

With a little over a month to prepare Mr. Zafran has high hopes for his speech. “I want people to understand that education isn’t just something you receive, it’s something you contribute to,” he said.

Commencement weekend will begin on May 16 and culminate in a university-wide ceremony on the National Mall on May 19.