Let Us Commence: 2011

Fareed Zakaria, Michael Bloomberg, and Madeline Albright were among the luminaries who offered their words of wisdom to local classes of 2011. Guess no one could afford Snookie. Click through for the highlights.

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Justin D. Knight, Howard University
Marc Morial -- former New Orleans Mayor and current President and CEO of the National Urban League -- was the featured speaker and an honorary degree recipient at Howard University’s May 14 commencement ceremony. Morial remarked that his new degree “made [him] complete,” as at least 10 of his family members, including his wife, graduated from Howard. Morial went on to ask graduates to keep three words in mind for the rest of their lives: excellence, equality and expectation.
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George Washington University -- which featured Michelle Obama as its 2010 commencement speaker -- managed to snag another big name this year, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg advised GW graduates to take risks and not worry about mapping out their careers. “Don't be the person who quits a startup company, or a band, before giving it a chance to make it big," he said. And don't be afraid to start over or change direction. The more risks you take, the happier you will be, even if they don't work out."
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Fareed Zakaria -- editor-at-large of TIME Magazine, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, Washington Post columnist, and New York Times bestselling author -- was the featured speaker at this year’s Johns Hopkins university-wide commencement excercises. One outgoing JHU undergraduate tweeted “Fareed Zakaria's commencement speech is like an intl relations course lecture.” That’s good, right?
Medical anthropologist and Partners in Health Co-founder Paul Farmer addressed Georgetown University’s College of Arts and Sciences class of 2011 on May 21. “One of the chief lessons from my own experience as a physician is that we can do great things when we pull together, when we are connected…try not to forget the broader social world around us and the past on which it is built,” said Dr. Farmer. “Innovation, which will be required if you’re to flourish on this crowded and uneven planet, requires…not forgetting connections.”
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Georgetown University professor and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright keynoted Georgetown University’s Master’s of Science in Foreign Service award ceremony this year. According to Albright, the key to wisdom is being open to new ideas. "Those who believe they are in full possession of the truth can be dangerous," she said.
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National Football League Player Association Executive Director and Maryland native DeMaurice Smith compared the NFL players' lockout fight against the owners to the detractors the students will face in their future lives during his May 19 University of Maryland commencement speech.
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In his May 5 commencement speech at the Universities at Shady Grove, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley touted USG as a model for the future of higher education. “USG is the wave of the future when it comes to meeting the goals that the President has challenged us to meet, goals we have also set as a state to make sure that more of our citizens and not less, as a percentage of our population, have college degrees.” said O’Malley. USG celebrated its 10th anniversary later that month.
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Robert M. Gates gave his final commencement speech as Defense Secretary on May 27, 2011 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Gates -- who will retire soon -- shared his observations on leadership, "a rare and precious commodity...the true measure of [which] is how you react when the wind leaves your sails, when the tide turns against you," said Gates.
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The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John A. Boehner of Ohio, gave the commencement address and received an honorary degree at the Catholic University of America on May 14, 2011. The selection drew fire from a number of Catholic academics who alleged that his record in Congress strays from one of the Roman Catholic Church’s core teachings. President Obama faced similar backlash in 2009, when he was invited to speak at the commencement exercises of another Catholic institution, the University of Notre Dame. Boehner--who has gotten misty-eyed in public before--waxed emotional while telling the audience about his going to church on the morning of his leadership election in 2006 and asking the Virgin Mary whether he was ready for the job.
Michael Kiernan
Kenneth R. Feinberg addressed Virginia Tech University graduates on May 13, 2011. The high-profile D.C. lawyer is best known for serving as special master of the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and later as administrator of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, set up for the families affected by the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. Currently, he is administering the $20 billion fund for claims following the 2010 BP oil spill. Feinberg took the opportunity to remind graduates that their new degree provides a head-start, but should not be taken for granted as a guarantee for future success. The ceremony was cut short because of extreme weather.
Office of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell
Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell delivered the commencement address at the University of Virginia's final exercises on May 22. McDonnell began his speech with a hearty congratulations to students who graduated with honors. “I got a 4.0 one year,” he said. “A 2.0 the first semester and a 2.0 the second. It wasn’t really that hard." Jokes aside, the governor advised students to practice civility and avoid cynicism. “We aren’t going to get through the tremendous fiscal and international challenges facing our great nation if we can’t first agree that we are all on the same American team. We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can practice civility,” he said. ”And that leads me to the second point: Avoid Cynicism. Cynicism allows individuals to feel justified in their inaction and disinterest. It affirms lethargy. It’s not the American way.”
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Less than a week before he replaced Katie Couric as host of CBS Evening News, veteran journalist Scott Pelley spoke at the commencement for Towson’s College of Fine Arts and Communications. Pelley was invited to Towson by Bill Owens, 60 Minutes producer and Towson alumnus. “When the question is a lie, answer with the truth,” Pelley told graduates. “And when the test says ‘stop here,’ you say ‘go on.’”
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Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered the keynote address at Baltimore University’s commencement ceremony. Mayor Rawlings-Blake is Baltimore’s second female mayor and was the youngest person ever elected to the City Council.
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Frank Deford, who GQ has called, simply, "the world's greatest sportswriter," spoke to Washington College’s class of 2011. “Just let yourself be surprised by life,” said Deford. “We have so few surprises any more. You know who's on the phone now before you pick it up, so you don't have to answer it. There are no blind dates because everybody is on Facebook… you need a little mystery in life..St. Paul says: "be not forgetful to entertain strangers for thereby have some entertained angels unawares."
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