After a Scottish bagpipe player led graduates of the School of Public Health and Health Services to their seats in Lisner Auditorium, Dean Ruth Katz offered words of wisdom to those in attendance.
“Being proud on a day like today is not sin and not vanity,” she said at Saturday’s celebration. “It’s a right you have deserved.”
Throughout the weekend, friends and family cheered on graduates as they received their degrees at each of the six individual school ceremonies.
The ceremonies, which took place in Lisner Auditorium and the Smith Center, functioned as more intimate events than Sunday’s Commencement, which honored more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral graduates on the Ellipse.
“This was the most wonderful thing I have ever been involved in,” said Ireland native Veronica McGuire, whose son Brian earned his doctor of public health. “Not just because of him, but because of all these hundreds of people that make a difference in the lives of people every day.”
The ceremonies featured student speakers as well as some distinguished guests. School officials also called each graduate on stage to accept their degree.
At Saturday’s School of Business celebration in the Smith Center, GW alumnus Edward Straw spoke about “Straw’s 12 laws” for success. Straw, a retired three-star admiral, currently serves as president of global operations for The Estee Lauder Companies, one of the world’s largest cosmetic corporations.
Straw said graduates should be willing to take risks.
“Don’t be afraid to get in harm’s away,” Straw said. “Become the person who fixes the potholes, not the person who talks about fixing potholes or drives through them.”
He also emphasized that when they serve as leaders, graduates should be affable toward their employees.
“Take time to have a beer with your people every once in a while,” Straw said. “It will be time well spent.”
The Smith Center also played host to Friday night’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences graduation, which was attended by parents who came from as far way as Bangladesh and Jordan to see
their children graduate.
“Our graduates have given us much to be proud of,” said engineering school dean Timothy Tong in brief remarks that opened the ceremony.
Addressing the school’s graduates, Tong said, “As you depart The George Washington University, do so with confidence, knowing you have completed a rigorous curriculum and achieved something significant.”
At the SPHHS ceremony, Jack Geiger of the City University of New York explained to graduates which issues they might have to confront upon entering the field of public health. Geiger is credited with helping create the concept of community-based healthcare.
“(HIV) is a formidable challenge that will be with you for a decade or more to come,” Geiger told the graduates.
He also discussed “the death spiral” of America’s public healthcare system.
“This is the only developed nation in the world where public health isn’t a right, it’s a privilege,” he said.
Student speakers at the ceremonies emphasized that graduates will have to learn to function as responsible leaders. Lee Jacobs, the graduate student speaker at the School of Business ceremony, discussed the major corporate scandals of the past few years.
“Just in case any of us are tempted (to act illegally), I offer you fair warning – I’m going to law school, and I’ll be watching,” Jacobs joked.
Evan Johnson, who received a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, served as the student speaker at the SPHHS ceremony. He spent his time praising the school’s faculty.
“They deserve the same amount, if not more, credit than we do,” Johnson said.
“In the end, their success will be measured by our success,” he added.
In addition to attending the celebration ceremonies, friends and family of graduates had time to see the sights of the nation’s capital because each ceremony lasted less than two hours.
“We visited the World War II Memorial, the Botanical Gardens and I got my card at the Library of Congress,” said Oregon native Louis Livingston, who watched his daughter, Annie, earn her master’s in business administration.
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.