2017 Commencement Celebration
Excitement filled the air as the student processional of graduates filed into the Charles E. Smith Center on May 20, 2017, led by Toni Marsh, program director, paralegal studies and college marshal, to officially be recognized for their hard work and sacrifices as new graduates of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in the College of Professional Studies (CPS) and the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM).
The happiness of the new graduates was contagious as the audience of loved ones cheered them on. The upbeat music filled the large auditorium as the faculty, administration and distinguished guests followed the students into the venue led by Dr. Ali Eskandarian, dean and faculty member of CPS.
Once all were seated the ceremony began with a welcome from Dean Eskandarian. The ceremony included the official presentation of the more than 300 graduates present, with each student’s name being read as they crossed the stage, as well as presentation of special awards and remarks by invited guests and student addresses.
While more than 300 graduates attended the annual Commencement ceremony, this was only a portion of the hundreds of students who graduated during the fall, spring and summer semesters. Additionally, the ceremony was livestreamed to many more online students who were unable to attend in person.
Dr. Eskandarian introduced the keynote speaker, Frederick M. Lawrence, the current secretary and chief executive officer for The Phi Beta Kappa Society, whose long and distinguished career as an accomplished scholar, teacher, and attorney has led him to be regarded as amongst the leading experts on civil rights, free expression and bias crimes in the nation. His career includes many noteworthy positions, including serving as the dean of the GW Law School and the President of Brandeis University.
Lawrence spoke passionately to the graduates about his understanding of free speech and lessons to guide their lives. “This is university that educates you not just to understand the world, but to act in the world and change the world. That is a mission that has never been more compelling or urgent,” he said.
He spoke about free speech, a hot topic on college campuses and around the world, and reminded the audience that free speech, even hateful speech, is protected. He questioned the fine line between protected speech and regulated conduct, and concluded with a story that illustrated his point of needing to consider the speech, the conduct, and the intention behind them, to fully understand the situation.
In his example someone posted hateful Notice of Eviction posters in a college dormitory. Was this a broad statement of free speech executed with poor judgment? Or was the intent to intimidate one victim? Suppressing free speech isn’t the answer to stopping such incidences. He advised it is a moral responsibility to respond to hateful speech by calling it what it is and expressing your opinion.
He left the graduates with several pieces of advice by drawing upon words from others including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson wrote that if you fail you should get back up again and not be afraid of another tumble. Dr. J, the famous basketball player, commented that his coach said never to leave the ground unless you know where your feet are coming down and he said he can’t play basketball that what. “You can’t live your life that way either,” said Lawrence. “Be the one who makes your life happen, not let it happen to you.”
Dean Eskandarian recognized three distinguished retirees –Dr. Stephen R. Chitwood, Dr. Gregory M. Logan and Dr. Roger Whitaker.
Dr. Roger Whitaker, founding dean of the College of Professional Studies, speaks at the podium, with CPS Dean Eskandarian. (GradImages)
Presentation of Awards
- Robert James Harrigan (Police and Security Studies), Dr. Richard F. Southby Police Science Prize
- Angela Hsiao-chi An (Strategic Public Relations), Founders Award for Academic Excellence
- Jane Ellen Pace (Law Firm Management), Dr. Stephen R. Chitwood Law Firm Management Prize
- Elyaa Hammad (Integrated Information, Science, and Technology), The George Washington University Alumni Association Prize
- Dr. Keith L. Williams (Homeland Security), College of Professional Studies Faculty Excellence Award
- Amanda Brooke Cranford (Political Management), Mark and Debbie Kennedy Frontiers of Freedom Award
Two students were selected to given student addresses through a competition. The first, Tonee Jones, a paralegal studies program graduate, spoke about how an advertisement she heard on Pandora radio two years ago changed her life. She took it as a sign that is was time to better herself by pursuing a graduate degree. During her time in the program she was supported by her amazing faculty and encouraged to reach higher professionally and became president of the GW Paralegal Association. She congratulated her fellow graduates and advised them to not stop dreaming and working hard to achieve their goals.
The second student speaker, Tremayne Smith, a graduate from the political management program, dedicated his speech to the memory of his recently departed grandmother. He spoke with humor, confidence in his accomplishments and a measure of humility, despite seeing himself as the future president of the United States.
Tremayne Smith, one of the student speakers and a graduate from GSPM's political management program, speaking at Commencement. (GradImages)
He structured his talk around three main points – in the first, why GW is a place for overcomers, he spoke with pride of being the first male in his family to get a bachelor’s degree and the first one in his family to attain a graduate degree, despite having faced hardship and significant adversity in his life. He recognized you are not your current circumstances and sought to change his life.
In the second point, why GW is an investment, he recognized the significant amount of time and money needed to pursue a graduate degree, but he said GW is a worthwhile investment, mentioning the quality faculty, networking and alumni opportunities. And third, what do we do with it, he said follow your ambitions. Put your education to use right away. Throw your caps and show the world what Colonials are about. “Let us show that at GW we are the fulfillment of the American dream.” Raise high the buff and the blue!
Following the presentation of graduates, Dean Ali Eskandarian concluded the ceremony by issuing his charge to the graduates. He recognized the hard work and personal sacrifices they have made and posed a philosophical question of “what defines a successful life?” While the meaning of what is a successful adult will vary from person to person, he said there is an element of universality across definitions.
His answer is to strive for making a difference in the world, as reflected in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem. He quoted, “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - that is to have succeeded.”
He congratulated the graduates – the CPS Class of 2017 – and told them it was time to celebrate. The ceremony ended joyously with the singing of the Alma Mater and a briskly paced recessional.