Trachtenberg slated to headline Commencement

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg will address graduates next month as the keynote speaker in his final Commencement ceremony as president of GW.

The outgoing president confirmed Wednesday morning that he will headline the graduation event on the National Mall May 20. Chairman of the Board of Trustees Charles Manatt will be the keynote speaker at the Law School graduation ceremony and former D.C. Council Chair Linda Cropp, who ran unsuccessfully for D.C. mayor last year, will receive an honorary degree from GW at this year’s University-wide ceremony.

Both Trachtenberg, who will have been president of the University for 19 years, and Manatt will be stepping down from their positions this summer.

“We explored all our options,” Trachtenberg said. “We thought we’ve given you such a rich array of speakers during the year, between the president of Afghanistan and the president of Pakistan and former president of the United States … When people are dining on a high-calorie diet like that, periodically you have to cut back on a little bit of that diet.”

Trachtenberg, who speaks at the ceremony every year but has never delivered the keynote address, said he has not yet decided what he will say to the 2007 graduating class.

“Well, one never knows. It’s months until that time. This is April. That’s not until May. That’s far off,” he said. “Between now and then any number of things might happen to provide an inspiration.”

An internal memo from April 4 to some University officials recommended that they announce the speakers list during the week of April 16 in an effort to make time for “students, faculty, staff and alumni to react to the news.” [Click here to read excerpts from the memo.]

The memo, obtained by The Hatchet, said there may be members of the community “both in favor and in opposition to the speakers,” but that the University “should be open to this dialogue, even if it means that those dissatisfied may have additional time to complain.”

Another listed reason in the memo for waiting to release the information would be to “help us gage [sic] if there will be a protest or demonstration so we can plan accordingly.”

Director of Media Relations Tracy Schario, who is listed as the author of the memo, declined to comment on the document. She said the University is planning to officially announce the complete list of Commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients by next week.

Last year, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush were the keynote speakers at Commencement and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Law School graduate, addressed law students at their graduation.

Schario said Wednesday that it is not uncommon for a university president to be a commencement speaker at his or his school. She added that Amherst College President Anthony Marx will address the school’s graduating class this year.

Manatt, who graduated from GW Law School in 1964, served as the chair of the Democratic National Committee for four years in the mid-1980s and as an ambassador to the Dominican Republic in the late 1990s. He started his own law firm in D.C. and has been chair of the Board of Trustees for the last six years.

“I suspect rarely do we have a graduate who is the chairman of the Board of Trustees and has developed, with many other good people, a law firm of over 42 years, be the graduation speaker,” Manatt said in a statement. “It will be fun to share with the graduates the view that indeed you can develop a firm; practice excellent law; and yet be very active in community, charitable and political happenings in our society.”

Cropp, who will also speak at the Commencement ceremony, said she was invited to participate in the graduation event about a month ago. Her husband, Dwight Cropp, is an associate professor of public policy and public administration at GW.

Schario said Cropp’s long-serving commitment to public service is a reason the University to invited her.

“On the face of it, the fact that she has been a prominent member of the City Council and GW has had very strong ties with the District of Columbia, and it makes natural sense that we’d recognized one of its longest-serving representatives,” Schario said.

Perhaps tongue in cheek, perhaps not, Trachtenberg only cited one specific person who was an alternative to him as keynote speaker. Though, according to officials in London, Queen Elizabeth II was never invited.

A spokesperson at Buckingham Palace said even though she was “not aware of an invitation” to the British monarch from the University, the queen couldn’t speak at Commencement anyway since her visit to the United States ends in early May. “Because she’s not in the country on that date – and she will have returned from her state visit – she unfortunately won’t be able to be there,” said Communications and Press Secretary Penny Russell-Smith.

-David Ceasar contributed to this report.

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