Commencement speakers are often considered inspiring because they impart wisdom gained through experiences that take place outside the boundaries of GW’s campus. But a few GW students, professors and administrators who acted as keynote speakers at this weekend’s individual school graduations proved this norm is not absolute
Saturday morning, Frank Sesno spoke to Columbian College graduates at Smith Center. Sesno, a professor of Media and Public Affairs, is also a special correspondent for CNN.
He joined the GW faculty this fall, and has brought several speakers to campus including White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.
Sesno instructed students to embrace the world of modern technology, and to use their college education to exract valuable knowledge.
“GW is where you learn how to make sense out of a world of information,” Sesno said. He added that no one should take the information he or she receives for granted.
Sesno said students should look analytically at what they see and hear every day.
“Take one little nugget (of information) each day and drill down into it, ask questions about it,” Sesno said.
James Scott, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, told graduates to constantly question their surroundings at the school’s ceremony Saturday afternoon. He said while many of these questions have easy answers, it is more difficult to resolve why students choose their profession.
“I think it is important that you spend some time asking why this is still important to me,” Scott said. “I would hope that your answer has to do with caring and compassion and change and making a difference.”
Scott emphasized that students should not use their degrees and the skills they have gained as a way to distinguish themselves from the people they treat.
“It’s not about prestige. It’s not about money. It’s about caring and truly making a difference,” he said.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg spoke to graduates of the School of Professional Studies Saturday evening. The School of Professional Studies was created in 2001 and granted its first degree to graduates this year. It also includes the older Graduate School of Political Management, whose graduates were in the audience. Trachtenberg spoke of the creation of the school, and the need to engage students in Washington culture.
“I take great pride in GW’s mission to be both in and of the District of Columbia,” Trachtenberg said. “It made great sense to create this school within a university that is geographically, if not intellectually, closest to the federal government.”
Trachtenberg also spoke of his impending transition from administrator to professor. “It is my intention,” he said, “to make as much mischief as a faculty member as I did as president.”
Sandra G. Sessoms-Penny spoke at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development’s graduation Saturday morning. Sessoms-Penny will receive a graduate degree in educational administration and policy studies.
The school, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2004, graduated 675 masters, education specialist and doctoral students. Sessoms-Penny will receive a graduate degree in educational administration and policy studies.
Charles Manatt, the outgoing chairman of the GW Board of Trustees, spoke at the Law School Commencement Sunday. Manatt discussed the importance of following one’s dreams, upholding the ethics law of the profession, and maintaining one’s independence.
“One thing you can do in any context is make a difference,” he told the graduates. “Believe me, if you really want to make a difference, you can.”
Manatt also touched on the importance of the many legal issues that dominate national discourse.
“You look at things like habeas corpus and wiretapping, and we, as lawyers, can easily see that you can never rest when it comes to the rule of law,” he said.
Manatt is a 1962 graduate of the Law School. He has previously served as Democratic National Committee Chairman and U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.