U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth to Deliver GW Commencement Address

The GW alumna, combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient said she looks forward to encouraging graduates to “go out and make a difference in the world.”

tammy duckworth
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a GW alumna, serves a mission of supporting, protecting and keeping promises made to veterans.
February 21, 2017

Combat veteran, Purple Heart recipient and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) will deliver the George Washington University's commencement address before an audience of 25,000 graduates, friends and family members on May 21 on the National Mall.

"Sen. Duckworth is one of the George Washington University’s most distinguished alumni,” said George Washington University President Steven Knapp. “From her military service to her tireless advocacy on behalf of veterans, women and families, Sen. Duckworth has dedicated her life to serving her country. She embodies a spirit of service and sacrifice that has inspired our many GW veterans and our university as a whole.”

Sen. Duckworth, M.A. ‘92, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after serving two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. While in the House, Sen. Duckworth was a member of the Armed Services Committee and helped pass several policies to help veterans, including the Clay Hunt SAV Act to help reduce veteran suicide and improve veteran mental health services and the Troop Talent Act, which helps returning veterans find jobs in the private sector. As a U.S. senator, she is continuing her lifelong mission of supporting, protecting and keeping promises made to veterans.

“I went to GW in part because of its outstanding record educating students in international relations, something that is as relevant and important today as it has ever been,” Sen. Duckworth said.

“GW helped me build a foundation for everything I’ve done since graduating, whether in the military, at the Department of Veterans Affairs or—now—in the Senate. I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and the role my alma mater played in them, but I never anticipated giving the commencement address being one of them. I’m humbled by this invitation and look forward to encouraging my fellow alums to go out and make a difference in the world.”

Sen. Duckworth is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and was among the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A member of the Reserve Forces for 23 years before retiring in 2014, she became an advocate for her fellow soldiers and others with disabilities while she was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from combat wounds she received after her Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Since her recovery, Sen. Duckworth has resumed flying as a civilian pilot and has run in several marathons to raise money for patients recovering at the Walter Reed Medical Center.

Sen. Duckworth earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii and earned a master’s degree in international affairs from GW. Since her graduation from GW, she has continued to be an active member of the university community. In 2014, she received GW’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award and in 2009 received the university’s inaugural Colin Powell Public Service Award. She most recently served on the host committee for GW’s annual Capitol Hill Alumni reception in January.

GW is the only university to hold its graduation ceremony on the National Mall, and this year’s ceremony will take place on the grounds of the Washington Monument. In addition to the all-university Commencement ceremony, individual schools and colleges will hold ceremonies May 15-21.

Previous GW Commencement speakers include U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker, Apple CEO Tim Cook, award-winning actress and alumna Kerry Washington, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, then-First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and world-renowned chef and humanitarian José Andrés.

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