Bush (41), other notable speakers to headline Commencement activities

This year’s Commencement speakers include a former U.S. president, a former GW president, manager of the hometown baseball team, a movie man and chairman of one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.

This weekend’s featured Commencement speaker, George H.W. Bush, along with former first lady Barbara Bush, will receive an honorary Doctorate of Public Service degree at the National Mall ceremony Sunday.

“We’re tickled pink,” University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said about the nation’s 41st president coming to GW. “I’ve heard he’s a very amusing speaker and has a nice touch.”

GW will also give honorary degrees to the Washington National’s manager and former Major League Baseball player Frank Robinson and Sumner Redstone, chairman of media conglomerate Viacom and CBS Corporation.

Robinson will be honored at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony this Saturday, while Redstone, who is receiving an honorary Doctorate of the Arts degree, will be honored at the University-wide ceremony on Sunday.

Motion Picture Association of America Chair Dan Glickman earned his law degree from GW in 1969 and is the only alumnus speaking at this weekend’s Commencement celebrations.

“Law school was an important part of my life,” Glickman said. “I’ve now been given the opportunity to speak to individuals who will soon be very important figures in their respective fields and who will take active roles in our government.”

As chairman of the MPAA, Glickman is responsible for lobbying the interests of major motion picture distributors before the U.S. government and international political bodies.

Before becoming chairman and CEO of the MPAA, Glickman served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years as a democratic representative from Kansas and in 1995 became the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton. Glickman will receive an honorary degree at the Law School’s ceremony May 21 in the Charles E. Smith Center.

Lloyd Elliott served as GW’s 18th president from 1965 to 1988 and will give the keynote speech for his namesake’s Elliott School of International Affairs celebration May 19.

“I’ve been attending commencements since my own one in high school,” Elliott said. “I’m embarrassed to count how many I’ve been to.”

“But it’s an occasion I’m flattered and honored to be in again,” said Elliott, who served as GW’s president for 23 years.

Before his tenure at GW, Elliott was president of the University of Maine where he said his most memorable commencement ceremony took place.

“It was a beautiful, perfect New England fall afternoon,” Elliott said. “And I heard a speech and gave a degree to President John F. Kennedy.” Elliott said Kennedy’s speech at the University of Maine occurred five weeks before his assassination.

Trachtenberg said he is excited about this year’s Commencement speakers, but they take a backburner to graduating students.

“The highlight of every commencement is the students,” Trachtenberg said in an interview this month. “The Commencement speaker is just an ornament.”

“Ultimately, it’s students and parents we’re trying to celebrate,” he said. “The event is underscoring their accomplishments and doing it in a context of highlighting the University.”

“Kids do it for the parents and the parents do it for the kids,” he added.

Though he said he values having a noteworthy Commencement speaker, Trachtenberg said some ceremonies and speakers have been more memorable than others.

“Some speakers are more famous, some are better received, some are more insightful and some are funnier,” he said.

Trachtenberg said he remembers Bill Cosby in 1997 as the funniest speaker and he remembers Hilary Rodham Clinton in 1994 as being very well-received.

-Jessica Calefati and Kaitlyn Jarhling contributed to this report.

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