Williams to keynote commencement

The University announced Thursday that one of the world’s most-watched journalists will deliver the keynote address at this year’s Commencement Ceremony.

Brian Williams, the managing editor of NBC Nightly News, attended GW for a semester in 1980, in addition to a short stint at Catholic University of America, but he never earned a diploma.

“It is an honor to be asked, and I intend to point out the obvious: Every graduate in the audience will have achieved what I failed to do – earn a college degree,” Williams said in a statement provided by NBC News.

Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles headed the seven-member selection committee, which included students, faculty and staff. The list of potential speakers started out at 50 in the fall.

“He’s obviously a very accomplished person, he’s funny and we thought he would have a great message for students,” Voles said.

She declined to say how many potential speakers GW reached out to before Williams. She also did not provide names of others on the shortlist.

University President Steven Knapp called Williams “an esteemed and accomplished journalist,” in a statement March 1.

“His wealth of knowledge and experience and his attendance at George Washington make him an ideal speaker. We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address the Class of 2012,” the statement read.

Williams has been with NBC since 1993 and took over Tom Brokaw’s position as anchor for “NBC Nightly News” in 2004. He garnered national attention for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

In addition to Williams’ accolades as a journalist, he is known for his ability to draw laughs from audiences on “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Daily Show.”

In the last few years, Williams has delivered commencement speeches at places like Fordham, Tulane and Notre Dame universities. During each speech, Williams called for action on national and local problems such as poverty, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill.

Williams’ selection diverges slightly from the political speakers that Voles has helped select over the last three years. Past guests include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel.

Mexican investor Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, will join renowned painter Clarice Smith in receiving honorary degrees at the University-wide ceremony May 20 on the National Mall.

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