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Hear Ye, Citizens!
Commencement keynote speaker David Rubenstein urges graduates to make the country of George Washington’s dreams a reality. “Make your children and your parents proud of what you have done.”
Even a soaking rain falling across Maryland’s Eastern Shore couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of 301 undergraduates receiving their diplomas during Washington College’s 233rd Commencement ceremonies. The star-studded line-up of honorees gathered in the Johnson Fitness Center included a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, the man who saved the Washington Monument, and the actor who portrays George Washington in the smash Broadway hit, Hamilton.
Historian Joseph J. Ellis, one of the nation’s leading scholars of American history, and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, who has committed millions of dollars to preserve America’s historic monuments and early documents, each received the honorary degree, Doctor of Laws. Actor and musician Christopher Jackson, who was recently nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical,” received the College’s Award for Excellence.
At the conclusion of the ceremonies, Jackson presented the George Washington Medal and Award to Hjördis Severina Lorenz, a psychology major conducting pioneering research that could help military veterans affected by the psychological toll of deployment. The College’s top academic prize is given to the senior who shows the greatest understanding and realizing in life and work the ideals of a liberal arts education. (See related gallery for more senior prizes.)
In his keynote address, Rubenstein congratulated members of the Class of 2016 for choosing a college with a great history. It was George Washington’s achievements, he said, that made it possible for them to be here today, “in a country that, despite its flaws, is the envy of the world.”
He spoke of George Washington as an entrepreneur who sacrificed greatly to create three extraordinary enterprises: our country itself, our system of government, and the U.S. presidency. Washington bore these responsibilities with some reluctance, Rubenstein said, but always rose to the occasion when his country needed him. It is this example that he urged the graduates to follow.
Rubenstein, who was a young boy when he first heard John F. Kennedy’s inspiring words — “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” — admonished the young graduates to look beyond themselves and focus not just on careers and families. “Try to also focus on your responsibilities to others and to your country,” he said. “It is your responsibility to build on what George Washington created for you. Do not shrink from this responsibility. Nothing has been so rewarding to me. And you have it within your grasp to do the same.”
He closed his remarks with a final quote from Kennedy’s inaugural address: “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”