With a month until Commencement, University officials disclosed the names Wednesday of four speakers who will address the more than 20,000 GW community members expected to assemble on the Ellipse May 16. They also announced that Sen. Joe Lieberman would lead the interfaith baccalaureate ceremony scheduled to take place two days before Commencement.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, former Supreme NATO Allied Commander Gen. John Shalikashvili, leading oncologist Luther W. Brady and Shakespearean scholar and former GW professor Gail Kern Paster will all receive honorary degrees and give brief speeches to the class of 2004.
University Marshal Jill Kasle said GW chose multiple speakers in part because some parents wanted to hear addresses from all people being honored at Commencement. Virginia Gov. and GW alumnus Mark Warner, who along with a few other alumni and community members were given honorary degrees at last year’s ceremony, delivered the keynote address on the Ellipse.
“We got some letters from parents … saying, ‘It was nice to hear from that one speaker but why not the others?'” said Kasle.
The 2001 Commencement also featured several speakers, including singer Tony Bennett and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk.
Asked if GW would be adding any more Commencement speakers, Kasle said, “there could be more.” University officials would not discuss people who might have turned down offers to speak at Commencement.
Lieberman (D-Conn.), the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential nominee, was asked to speak at the May 14 baccalaureate service because he has shown a commitment to education and religion, Kasle said. The interfaith service brings together GW community members for prayer and reflection.
As a vice presidential candidate, Lieberman, a devout Jew, refused to hold Saturday campaign appearances in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.
Kasle, who directs Commencement preparations, said the honorary degree recipients were chosen based on their achievements in their respective fields.
“The question the Board of Trustees asked at the beginning of this process was, ‘What kind of people (does) GW want to honor?'” said Kasle, who noted that Brady and Shalikashvili are GW alumni.
Shalikashvili, who served as the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, graduated from GW in 1970 with a Master’s degree in international affairs.
Brady, a professor of medicine at Philadelphia’s Hahnemann School of Medicine, received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from GW in the 1940s. A member of the Board of Trustees, Brady is also benefactor of GW’s Luther W. Brady Art Gallery in the Media and Public Affairs building.
Paster was a GW English professor for 28 years before becoming the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2002.
Leaderman, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1988, is director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill.
Some seniors said the speakers lacked the name recognition of previous speakers, including Bennett, comedian Bill Cosby and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
“I know last year seniors were complaining about Warner,” senior Tom McKeown said. “He was much bigger than these people.”
“We’re in the middle of D.C.,” senior Nicole Kaplan said. “There’s no reason not to have for speakers with more name recognition.”
Other students, such as senior Jordan Krizman, said they were more focused on the quality of the speeches than name recognition.
“If they end up being good speakers, then I probably won’t care,” he said.
The University will also present Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards to James Cacheris, former district judge; Nancy Jackson, who works at the Imaging Department of Sandia National Laboratories; Allyn Kilsheimer, who led the reconstruction and restoration of the Pentagon; Jung-Sook Kim, member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea; Robert Daniel Rosenberg, director of the Program of Excellence in Molecular Biology of the Cardiovascular System and William Castle, chief of molecular medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.