University names additional Commencement speakers

Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Mildred Dresselhaus, Miami Herald publisher Alberto Ibarguen and former Army doctor Philip Russel will join CBS correspondent Andy Rooney in speaking at Commencement on May 22.

“It’s an interesting group of people,” University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said. “Any one of those people you’d be happy to have dinner with.”

The three speakers, announced last week, are also receiving honorary degrees but will have less time to speak than Rooney.

“(Rooney) will have, as the featured speaker, 10 or 15 minutes to talk, and the other ones, as they receive their honorary degrees, will have less time – probably about five minutes,” media relations director Tracy Schario said.

In a marked difference from previous years, none of the 2005 speakers attended GW. At last year’s ceremony, oncologist Luther Brady and former Gen. John Shalikashvili, both GW graduates, joined former GW professor Gail Kern Paster on the Commencement stage. In 2003, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who earned a bachelor’s degree from GW and lived in Thurston Hall, addressed graduates.

Only Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who will be addressing the Law School’s diploma recipients at a separate ceremony on May 22, attended the University. He graduated with a law degree in 1964. During his time at GW, he worked as a Capitol Hill police officer to support his family.

Trachtenberg said that having a Commencement speaker who is a GW graduate is “fortuitous, it’s not an obligatory thing.”

Prospective honorary degree recipients are evaluated based on distinguished professional achievement, a record of public service that has contributed to the public good or a connection to the University, Marshal Jill Kasle said.

An infectious disease and tropical medicine researcher, Russel is the former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command. He now works with the Department of Health and Human Services, and was asked by President Bush to deliver smallpox vaccines throughout D.C. following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Russel has also worked with University professor Peter Hotez to develop viral vaccines and further research on the Human Hookworm Vaccine initiative.

“Being recognized by a prestigious University for your contributions to science and public service is a great honor,” Russel wrote in an e-mail last week. This will be Russel’s first honorary degree.

Russel said he would talk about giving back to the global community.

“Combining a career in scientific research with public service can lead to a very rewarding life,” he said.

Ibarguen, publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, is president-elect of the Knight Foundation, a private group that promotes and sponsors journalism initiatives. Kasle said he was chosen along with Rooney because of public attention toward the media.

The Hatchet learned in January that Rooney, whose granddaughter will be graduating in May, would be delivering the keynote address to the Commencement crowd.

“It’s a big year in the media,” Kasle said, referring to the retirement of CBS anchor Dan Rather and NBC’s Tom Brokaw. “Two of the three major network anchors this year have left.”

Dresselhaus, a physics and electrical engineering professor at MIT, is co-author of four books on solid-state physics. The president of the American Physical Society, treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dresselhaus conducts research in carbon nanotechnology.

Kasle said that traditionally, speakers have addressed the graduates with words of wisdom, advice for the future and colorful anecdotes specific to GW.

“Every Commencement is different, and has its own memorable moments; this year will be no different,” Kasle said.

-Michael Barnett and Gabriel Okolski contributed to this report.

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