Lehman bids farewell to doctoral recipients

Thursday night’s Doctoral Hooding Ceremony marked a milestone for GW’s outgoing Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

After 38 years at GW – 14 of which were spent as one of the University’s highest academic officers – Donald Lehman addressed the nearly 300 doctoral candidates at GW for the last time.

In his final charge to graduates, he addressed the challenges they may face finding jobs, and shared his feelings on what he thinks it means to be a scholar.

“This occasion is always a special one,” Lehman told the audience gathered in the Smith Center. “This year is particularly significant, as it is the 40th anniversary of the year that I received my own doctorate.”

Lehman – who earned his doctorate in theoretical physics from GW in 1970 and a few years later began a fellowship at the University – shared his academic background with the graduates. He told them he wanted to speak “from the heart” and share his beliefs about the doctorate degree.

“We educators spend a lot of time debating the definition of true scholarship,” Lehman said, adding true scholarship can be found in service, like teaching.

“To me, real service is nothing more or less than applied scholarship,” he said.

Lehman said his talk was a departure from his traditional address to graduating students. In the past he has given advice about post-grad life, but this year he decided to tell students they will always be learning.

“Whatever you do, what you’ve learned over the course of your studies, this degree will never leave you. If you choose to believe as I do that scholarship is multifaceted, wherever you land, you will find your way to create new knowledge,” Lehman said.

University President Steven Knapp also spoke to graduates, congratulating them on earning the highest degree offered by GW.

“Today our names are forever linked with those alumni who received their doctorates in years past,” Knapp said, noting three previous doctoral candidates who had gone on from GW to hold prominent positions in the country and around the world.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Jennifer Burruss, a recipient of a doctorate in education in higher education administration, of getting hooded. “It was neat to share it with so many other people.”

Horatious Njie Tanyi, now the holder of a doctorate in philosophy in computer science, called graduating a huge relief.

“I took a lot out of [Lehman’s] speech about what to do after getting a PhD and getting into the field and contributing. I thought his speech was very good,” Tanyi said.

Vanessa Schick, who earned a doctor of philosophy in applied social psychology, said she thinks people are often torn over what to do after graduation, but said Lehman’s remarks applied to everyone at the ceremony.

Associate professor of psychology and women’s studies Alyssa Zucker, who assisted Schick during her five years of study, helped one last time by giving Schick her hood at the ceremony.

“It’s great, after all these years of hard work,” Zucker said of seeing Schick graduate.

Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies and Academic Affairs Dianne Martin gave the audience a brief “dissertation” on the history and symbolism of the academic regalia worn by scholars.

Martin explained the designation “doctor” signifies the holder has made original contributions to knowledge and is ready to teach others.

“The special hood worn by the doctor is part of the academic regalia and traces its origin back to the beginning of the western university, some 900 years ago,” Martin said.

Originally worn mostly by clerics and intended to keep out the cold, the garments were required by universities to be “sad-colored.”

“But as often happens, even today, the faculty ignored that requirement,” Martin said, drawing laughter from the audience. She said the faculty chose to make the academic costumes in vivid colors, representing the university and particular degrees.

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