Julian Bond, a civil rights pioneer and chairman of the NAACP, will deliver this year's keynote address at Commencement on the National Mall.
The 68 year-old activist and speaker is most well known for his efforts leading the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which spearheaded many protests regarding civil rights, the Vietnam War, feminism and nonviolence.
Bond's May 18 appearance on the Mall falls 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and 45 years after the "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
In an interview with The Hatchet, Bond said the Commencement address carries increased significance because of the energy leading up to the 2008 presidential election.
"(Y)oung people seem to be more involved in this election than in recent ones," Bond said. "So (my speech) is a chance to make sure they remain involved not just in this election, but in civic affairs for the rest of their lives."
Before the University invited him to campus, the Board of Trustees first confirmed Bond as an honorary degree recipient - the full list of which will not be released until May.
Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, said he is pleased a famous civil rights leader would speak at the University's largest event of the year.
"Given the nature of our times these days, especially after Democratic nominee Barack Obama's speech about race, I couldn't imagine a more timely speaker," Tapscott said.
In 1965, Bond - who also the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center - made national news when he was at the center of a free speech case argued before the Supreme Court. The court ruled unanimously that it was unconstitutional for the Georgia House of Representatives to refuse him a seat in the legislature because he opposed the Vietnam War.
He said the decision "gave people notice that their free speech rights would be protected."
Bond drew criticism in 2006 when the conservative blog WorldNetDaily reported that in a speech, he said Republicans' "idea of equal rights is the American flag and Confederate swastika flying side by side."
Despite reports he denied the comment, he told The Hatchet Wednesday night that he has in fact said it several times, but about conservative "political forces" rather than Republicans.
"What I'm saying in that statement is that there are people who believe that these two things are equal and they certainly are not," Bond said.
Senior Sergio Gor, president of the GW chapter of Young America's Foundation, a conservative student group, said he is very disappointed with the University's choice for Commencement speaker. Other conservative groups, such as the College Republicans, have also expressed their dismay at the choice.
"I think it's an outrage after putting so much money in this University and seeing the amazing individuals that are brought here, that our send-away message is someone who encompasses bigotry and basically equates every single Republican with a Nazi," Gor said.
In addition to the Georgia House of Representatives, Bond also served in the Georgia Senate and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on several corporate boards and is a distinguished professor at American University and a professor in history at the University of Virginia.
-Jake Sherman contributed to this report.