Former Senator George Mitchell (D-Maine) will keynote the Law School Commencement ceremony May 26 in the Smith Center. Mitchell developed U.S. Middle East policy and worked to mediate a peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
Law school administrators said Mitchell was chosen because of his “exemplary lifestyle” and involvement with peace processes.
“He’s an extraordinary person,” Law School Dean Michael Young said. “We always try to pick speakers that exemplify how our students (should live).”
Dean Thomas Morrison said the Law School “couldn’t have had a more timely speaker,” because of the current conflict in the Middle East and that Mitchell is an “individual known in the peace process.”
Mitchell served as chairman of an international committee that reported to former President Bill Clinton in May 2000 on how to end violence in the Middle East. The committee’s recommendation, “The Mitchell Report,” was adopted by President George W. Bush and has been endorsed by the European Union and other governments.
In 1995 Mitchell began serving chairman of peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Under his leadership, the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom and the political parties of Northern Ireland agreed to a historic accord, ending decades of conflict. In May 1998, the voters of Ireland, North and South, overwhelmingly endorsed the agreement in a referendum.
Some undergraduates were unhappy with Brown University president Ruth Simmons as GW’s Commencement keynote speaker because she is not a well-known political figure. Most, however, are pleased with Mitchell because he is a popular political icon.
Senior Randi Rothbaum said Mitchell would be an excellent choice to have at the Law School Commencement or Commencement on the Ellipse.
“I think he’d be a really cool speaker,” Rothbaum said. “If Mitchell decided to stop by at (undergraduate) Commencement that would be great.”
Third year law student Jane Davis said she expected the speaker to be a political figure because of GW’s location, and she is excited because of his role in the Middle East conflict.
“He’s a highly respected individual talking about something that is (occurring) right now,” Davis said.
“I’m really excited about (Mitchell’s speech), considering his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the Middle East,” Dustin Allison, outgoing Student Bar Association director of student services, said.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is happy.”
Unlike those graduating May 19, law school students nominate and vote on potential speakers.
Young said Law School Commencement speaker selection is “not as formal” as the undergraduate ceremony’s nominating process.
“There’s a list we draw up of speakers students would like to (see) at Commencement,” Young said. “It’s interactive and very cooperative.”
Allison said near the end of last year, all graduating law students submitted names. He said the names were then ranked by the dean and voted on by the graduating class.
To choose the Ellipse speaker, a committee takes suggestions from all over the University, then presents a short list of possible speakers to the Board of Trustees to approve before inviting anyone, said Jim Hess, executive director of University events.
Zack Beyer, Student Association vice president of judicial and legislative affairs, said the SA suggested Rudolph Guiliani, former mayor of New York City, and Tony Blair, prime minister of Great Britain, but their suggestions were not given as much consideration as he would have liked.
Hess said all suggestions are taken into consideration but the Board of Trustees has the final say.
Young said he does not know what Mitchell will speak about but he does not think Mitchell “is going to give a talk on the Middle East,” because that is not what a “typical” Commencement speech is about.
Students said they hope Mitchell’s involvement in peace processes will influence his speech.
Mitchell has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, according to a University press release.
During his 14-year Senate career, Mitchell worked on legislation ranging from environmental protection laws to bans on nuclear weapons tests in the United States and Soviet Union.
-Kate Stepan contributed to this report.