Updated: June 13, 2014 at 10:42 a.m.
Collin Stevenson only had three minutes to tell a panel of nine judges why his GW experience qualified him to speak in front of 25,000 people at the University-wide Commencement ceremony in May.
His second, and last, opportunity to land the prestigious honor was successful, as University officials said Stevenson’s global perspective and commitment to the University made him the perfect student to fill the role.
“I actually applied to speak at Commencement for my undergraduate degree and didn’t get it,” Stevenson, a Presidential Administrative Fellow said. “[It’s] a lot less pressure now, so I figured I would give it a go.”
In his speech before the panel, Stevenson spoke about his experience as a sophomore abroad when he conducted international affairs research.
While in Yemen on a fellowship in the summer of 2010, Stevenson conducted research, volunteered at a center for East Afican refugees, studied Arabic and was a copy editor of a national newspaper.
His most notable experience in Yemen was when a young girl dressed in a veil shared a story about how her family perished as it fled the fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia, traveling across the Red Sea.
“It was a heartbreaking story, but the girl who shared it was one of the strongest women I’ve met,” Stevenson said. “[My Commencement] speech, though too short to include details of all my experiences, will hopefully reflect the idea that there are challenges in the world, but [we are able to] address them and make a difference.”
Stevenson’s travels also led him to Haiti, Morocco and Egypt, which he said gave him an interesting perspective on the world and how it relates to his overall education.
“When we meet challenges… it will be those moments that keep us going,” Stevenson said.
The native of Sumner, Wash., has dedicated his life to public service, volunteering regularly through the Center for Civic Engagement & Public Service’s Neighbors Project at the D.C. branch of a nonprofit called LIFT, which helps low-income citizens secure housing, healthcare, childcare and employment while linking them to other social services.
“I think my general calling – what I feel the most at peace doing – is helping others,” Stevenson said.
He participated in Air Force ROTC through Howard University, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 2009 after receiving his undergraduate degree.
After graduation this year, Stevenson will begin training in Texas for four years of active duty and then he plans to work for either the government, military or a nonprofit.
Stevenson said he is honored to speak alongside New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who he called an incredible public servant dedicated to issues that he and other GW students can relate to.
“I want to acknowledge those experiences that made me who I am, in the hopes that my fellow graduates will take a moment to think about their own time at GW,” Stevenson said of his speech.