The university announced the speakers for the 2015 commencement ceremonies, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, journalist Charlie Rose, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and global mental health expert Vikram Patel, on May 4.
The ceremonies began Thursday with the McCourt School of Public Policy hosting Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Saturday’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies will begin on Healy Lawn with Ban at 9 a.m. for the School of Foreign Service, followed by Rose for Georgetown College at 12 p.m., Patel for the School of Nursing and Health Studies at 3 p.m. and Chao for the McDonough School of Business at 6 p.m. Each speaker will receive an honorary doctorate.
Ban has been secretary-general since 2007. Ban also spoke at Harvard University’s 2004 commencement while serving as South Korea’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, as well as at the University of Denver’s graduate school commencement in 2013. The U.N. Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General did not respond to requests for comment on the content of Ban’s speech.
Rose, a talk show host and journalist, has hosted his eponymous interview show on PBS since 1993 and has co-anchored “CBS This Morning” since 2012. Rose could not be reached for comment through his program.
College Dean Chester Gillis said that each speaker is welcome to discuss any topic he or she chooses.
“I think that Charlie Rose will speak to the graduates about the privilege and experience of a college, and specifically a Georgetown education, encourage them about their futures and congratulate them,” Gillis wrote in an email. “That said, with all College graduation speakers, the speech is his or hers to create and deliver. I do not specify content.”
Patel, a professor of international mental health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health and a psychiatrist based in Goa, India, said he will use his vast experience working on global mental health to inform his speech for the NHS graduation.
“Global mental health is really a different way of thinking about mental health care and what mental illness means to ordinary communities,” Patel said. “The field is primarily concerned with notions of equity and fairness in terms of improved opportunities for people with mental illness in all parts of the world, but also in terms of the distribution of resources that are available for mental health care.”
Patel explained that, with this in mind, his talk would be based on two central themes.
“The first theme is about how people with the power of knowledge that comes from higher education should democratize that knowledge by sharing it with other people in the community and to have the humility to learn from other people in the community,” Patel said.
“The second important message is about acting locally, but always thinking globally, to keep your mind open to innovations and approaches to address problems that affect our world.”
The NHS Dean’s Office originally approached Patel to speak at last year’s ceremony, but he was unavailable, and American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Alan Leshner addressed the graduating class instead.
Patel admitted he was surprised that Georgetown approached him.
“It’s a tremendous honor for me, as an Indian academic,” Patel said. “I know that it’s not common for foreigners to be invited to give this address, and I think it’s a great honor especially given that it’s one of the most world-class universities in the world, especially in the area of health.”
Chao made history in 2001 as the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to a U.S. president’s cabinet, serving as the 24th Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush until 2009. She is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Before entering the political world, Chao held high-ranking positions at Bank of America and Citicorp.
In addition to speaking at this year’s commencement, Chao has attended numerous events at the university in the past, including when she received the Georgetown Business Leader of the Year award in 2001.
Chao praised the university’s commitment to service.
“Georgetown is a wonderful university,” Chao wrote in an email. “The Georgetown tradition of emphasizing leaders dedicated to serving others is an ideal I’ve always believed in and have dedicated most of my career to embody.”
She detailed how her speech will focus on the role of business leaders in the free enterprise system.
“Business leaders should be positive role models, and help shape the image of the free enterprise system by becoming leaders who are ethical and worthy of the public trust who bring hope, employment opportunities and a better life to everyone, their families and communities,” Chao wrote.
MSB Dean David Thomas described meeting Chao shortly after she was appointed as Secretary of Labor and praised her selection to speak at this year’s commencement.
“We shared an interest in the importance of diversity in leadership positions,” Thomas wrote in an email. “She is an inspirational person, and I was happy to nominate her as our speaker this year to the university’s leadership.”
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will host R. Timothy Ziemer, retired Rear Admiral of the United States Navy and U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator. Ziemer will speak Friday, May 15 at 9 a.m. on Healy Lawn.
The speaker for the McDonough School of Business MBA commencement will be President and CEO of the American Red Cross Gail McGovern. She will deliver her address Friday, May 15 at 12:30 p.m. on Healy Lawn.
Friday’s final ceremony will feature the commencement for the School of Continuing Studies. Retired Admiral Thad Allen, executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, will make his remarks on Healy Lawn at 3:30 p.m.
The ceremony for Georgetown University Medical Center will feature remarks from President and CEO of Trinity Health Richard Gilfillan on Sunday, May 17 at 11 a.m. at the National Theatre.
Stephen Bright, president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights, will speak at the Georgetown University Law Center commencement on Healy Lawn Sunday, May 17 at 2 p.m.
Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, former attorney general of Guatemala and current distinguished scholar in residence at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and GULC, will receive an honorary doctorate as well.
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