Liberals dominate decade of commencements at GWU

Kara Zupkus
D.C. Campus Correspondent

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  • The George Washington University’s mission statement emphasizes a commitment to “cultural and intellectual diversity,” yet its selection of commencement speakers would seem to contradict that pledge.
  • Since 2000, only one speech has been given by a conservative, while 12 have featured prominent liberals.
  • The George Washington University’s mission statement emphasizes a commitment to “cultural and intellectual diversity,” yet its selection of commencement speakers would seem to contradict that pledge.

    According to a fact sheet on the university’s website, only one commencement speech has been delivered by a conservative since 2000, while all but three others have featured speakers from liberal backgrounds.

    “So what is that, 9 outspoken progressive speakers in a row now?”   

    [RELATED: Liberals to outnumber conservative commencement speaker 4-to-1]

    The list begins with the 2000 commencement address, delivered by Clinton-appointed Secretary of State Madeline Albright. The next two years featured non-political speakers—singer Tony Bennett and Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green—followed in 2003 by Mark Warner, the Democratic governor of Virginia. The 2004 address was delivered by professor of clinical oncology Dr. Luther Brady.

    [RELATED: Scripps prof's 'outraged' that Madeline Albright selected as commencement speaker]

    CBS news commentator Andy Rooney, who once famously stated that “It's hard to conceal the fact I am more of a Democrat than I am a Republican,” gave the commencement in 2005, inaugurating a decade-long string of politically-identifiable speakers.

    Throughout that time, though, only one commencement failed to feature a liberal—the 2006 speech by former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.

    GWU returned to the liberal well in 2007, inviting Wolf Blitzer, an anchor on the liberal-leaning media outlet CNN who once defended Obama from GOP critics when he appeared on David Letterman while refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    In 2008, the commencement was given by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who once went on a tirade against Tea Party conservatives, stating, “We saw hate on display this summer in town halls and tea parties...Our politics have been poisoned by armed and paranoid self-described patriots, drawn from the Taliban wing of American politics, a true fright wing, once called Birchers, now birthers, spreading lies and spreading myths.”

    Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel spoke in 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke in 2010, and the 2011 speech featured Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat Michael Bloomberg.

    The pattern continued in 2012, when NBC news anchor Brian Williams was invited to speak. Williams, after the election of President Obama, stated on his nightly news show: “This nation woke up this morning changed. As one columnist put it, America matured in 2008 by choosing Barack Obama.”

    The 2013 commencement address was delivered by “actress and activist” Kerry Washington, a vocal supporter of President Obama who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 on his behalf.

    “Today there are people trying take away rights that our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers fought for: our right to vote, our right to choose, affordable quality education, equal pay, access to health care,” she lamented at the Convention. “We the people can't let that happen.”

    Washington was followed in 2014 by Jose Andres, a vocal supporter of illegal immigrants staying in the United States.

    “We have 11 million people—some people would call them undocumented, other people will call them illegals—but people,” Andres said in a 2014 interview. “They're here, performing duties, working somewhere, in the farms, in the fishing industry, maybe in restaurants, and somehow we don't give them the opportunity to belong is kind of not fair.”

    And in 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook, an openly gay man who once called the religious freedom law passed in Indiana a "very dangerous ... wave of legislation,” spoke at GWU’s commencement ceremony.

    All of which leads up to this year’s commencement speaker, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), whose selection prompted numerous complaints from frustrated conservatives.

    “@GWtweets chooses yet another liberal for our commencement speaker! http://bit.ly/1UXqsai @CoryBooker @GWYAF #myliberalcampus,” tweeted Amanda Robbins, former executive director of GW YAF.

    “So what is that, 9 outspoken progressive speakers in a row now?” asked a comment on GW’s facebook post.

    During the years President George W Bush held office, GW selected mainly non-political guests to speak at the commencement ceremony, yet during the presidency of Barack Obama, the roster of speakers has been dominated by liberal political figures, from Rahm Emanuel to Michael Bloomberg to Michelle Obama. The school website also lists honorary degree recipients over the same period, though most do not have identifiable political leanings.

    While the university claims to hold intellectual diversity as a vital part of its mission, their selection of commencement speakers defy this, as there is little to no ideological diversity.

    Campus Reform reached out to The George Washington University and asked if their past selection of speakers stands in line with their commitment to diversity, to which the school responded that political leanings are not a part of its selection process.

    “We choose our commencement speakers based on university values of public service, leadership and integrity. Political ideology is not a factor,” Associate Director of Media Relations Kurtis Hiatt told Campus Reform. “Suggestions for the speaker come from all over the GW community, and then are discussed by a committee made up of students, faculty and staff. We have been fortunate to have speakers representing the performing arts, politics, and journalism.”

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kara_kirsten



    Kara Zupkus

    Kara Zupkus

    D.C. Campus Correspondent

    Kara Zupkus is a Washington, D.C. Campus Correspondent, and reports liberal bias and abuse on campus for Campus Reform. She studies Political Science and Journalism at The George Washington University, where she serves as treasurer of GW's Chapter of Young America's Foundation.

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