Virginia Governor Mark Warner will keynote Commencement May 18, a spokesman in the governor’s office and GW officials confirmed Tuesday.
Warner, 48, a Democrat, graduated from GW in 1977 and is a former member of the University’s Board of Trustees.
“The governor feels a personal connection to George Washington (University) and the city,” said Kevin Hall, a Warner spokesman. “It was where he was bitten by the political bug.”
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said Warner had been GW’s first choice as Commencement speaker in previous years, but he was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
“It all came together,” he said, adding that the Democrat was the University’s first choice this year.
“He is a GW alumnus, he is a successful entrepreneurial businessman, he is a public servant in an adjacent state,” Trachtenberg said.
Now a self-made millionaire with an estimated fortune of $200 million, Warner has worked as a paperboy, a dishwasher, a stock boy, a shoe salesman and a janitor at a hospital, according to The Washington Post. He was the first member of his family to receive a college degree and became an active member of the Democratic Party.
Warner graduated from Harvard Law School in 1980 and went on to be a founding partner in the Columbia Capital Corporation, a venture capital fund in Alexandria, Va. The organization started more than 65 businesses, which employ more than 15,000 workers, according to Warner’s official biography.
In 1996, Warner lost a U.S. Senate bid to popular incumbent Virginia Republican John Warner by six percentage points.
Warner was inaugurated as the Virginia governor in January 2002 to find that the projected budget shortfall in Virginia had been drastically underestimated and that the state was in a severe financial crisis. He managed to present a balanced budget within the first 100 days in office.
An advocate of gun rights and a moderate fiscal conservative, Warner has championed a conservative, business-oriented approach to state spending.
Students can expect an official list of this year’s honorary degree recipients and details on the commencement ceremony in the next week, Trachtenberg said.
The University announced in January that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will speak at the Law School Commencement May 25.
Honorary degree recipients include jazz musician Billy Taylor, former chair of the Board of Trustees and IRS Commissioner Sheldon Cohen and scientist and GW alumna Madeline Jacobs. While not all the speakers have been confirmed, Trachtenberg said he is “95 percent” certain this will be the final list of speakers.
Trachtenberg said a “cabinet member” is being considered to speak at the engineering school graduation.
Past Commencement speakers have included Bill Cosby, former Sen. Bob Dole, Colin Powell and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Last year Brown University President Ruth Simmons gave the address.
Some students said they were pleased with the choice of Warner.
“It was a good decision to get him to speak because he has accomplished something amazing,” senior Melanie Gordon said. “It’s good that he’s from GW; it’s good encouragement. It’s good to see someone from GW moving up in the world.”
“Since there are so many people who want to be politicians who go to GW and Warner’s a politician who went to GW, it’s a perfect fit,” senior Tushar Assarya said.
Others said they would have liked to see a nonpolitical speaker.
“It’d be nice to see someone not connected to politics speak at Commencement,” senior Andrew Choi said. “I think the campus has so much political charge that it’d be nice to step back and consider humanity as a whole.”
“They’ve had Tony Bennett and Bill Cosby in the past; I’d like to see someone like that,” senior Sandra Plaza said. “This school is very political, so I’m sure other people know who he is. I don’t really care for it.”
-Michael Barnett and Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.