Former Senate majority leader and 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole will deliver the keynote address at the 1998 Commencement Ceremony.
During a breakfast reception at the F Street Club Saturday, which included several students from the School of Media and Public Affairs, Dole surprised his guests by posing the question, “So, what should I talk about in my Commencement speech?”
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he is pleased Dole agreed to give the speech.
“He brings to our Commencement a lifetime of wisdom on public issues,” he said.
Dole hinted he would likely focus on public service during his speech, including tidbits about his own life, which includes 40 years in Congress representing Kansas.
During the breakfast, Dole asked students to submit a paragraph that summarized what they thought would make a great Commencement speech.
“This is a person of a different generation who is really seeking out student input,” said University Marshall Jill Kasle. “He basically told us, give me some language, and I’ll put it in my speech.”
During the past few months, Trachtenberg has hosted three breakfast meetings with small groups of students and Dole.
“Along the way Senator Dole has gotten to know the students and he has taken an interest in them,” Trachtenberg said. “The opportunity to meet GW students has convinced him that it would be the investment of a morning, and not an expenditure (to speak at Commencement).”
Three years ago, Dole’s wife Elizabeth, president of the American Red Cross, was scheduled to give the keynote address when a lightning storm forced the Commencement ceremony on the Ellipse to be canceled.
Trachtenberg recalled her “light touch and kindness” at a time when the University’s administration was under criticism for poor planning.
“She offered to call in the Red Cross for us,” laughed Trachtenberg.
For his part, Dole said he has been keeping a “presidential pace,” since he left the Senate in 1996, touring six states in the past week to speak to student bodies across the country.
He has also appeared in commercials for VISA and Dunkin’ Donuts.
“If we had run these ads before the election, we might have won it,” Dole joked.
Dole also has been spotted on occasion delivering dozens of donuts to members of the media waiting for Monica Lewinsky in front of the Watergate building where he lives.
At the breakfast, after a short discussion on the ethics of today’s media, he laughed off reports in Star magazine that he had been peeking through her curtains late at night, and said Lewinsky and he are just “neighbors.”
A veteran of World War II who served in the 10th mountain division and was seriously wounded in combat, Dole spends part of his time working for the Coalition of Missing Persons.
He recounted his trips to Bosnia and recalled seeing the mass graves with human remains, adding he feels both the Bush and Clinton administrations failed to use the superpower status of the United States to stop the genocide.
He also discussed the future of the Republican Party, saying the GOP seems to lack an agenda, and he decried the clout of the “religious right who think the Republican Party is about abortion and abortion only.”
Dole will be given an honorary doctoral degree of public service at the May 17 ceremony. He will be one of six degree recipients at Commencement, according to Sandy Holland, executive director of University Relations.
Former vice president for medical affairs and executive dean of GW Medical Center Alan Weingold will receive a honorary doctor of science degree. Weingold retired last year.
Arthur Brimmer, chairman of the D.C. financial control board, will receive a doctorate for public service. Brimmer announced he will not seek reappointment to the board last month.
Oliver Carr, chairman emeritus of GW’s Board of Trustees, will be honored with a doctor of public service degree. He is the founder of the Oliver Carr Company.
In addition, Soprano Harolyn Blackwell will be honored with a doctor of music degree. Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emeritus of history at City University of New York, will receive a doctor of humanities degree.
-Becky Neilson and Matt Berger contributed to this report.