News and Analysis


University-wide Commencement

Updated: May 17, 2015 at 4:18 p.m.

Thousands of graduates gathered on the National Mall for University-wide Commencement Saturday morning. As expected, their degrees were conferred and they got bits of advice from University President Steven Knapp and a fellow graduate and keynote speaker Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook. But there were a few surprising moments, too.

Here are some of the most unexpected moments of Commencement:

1. Honorary degree recipient uses heimlich

Knapp introduced honorary degree recipient, Anthony Fauci, a world-reknowned HIV/AIDS researacher and expert on infectious disease. Knapp listed a long string of Fauci’s accomplishments, like recieving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 and serving as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

But Knapp said Fauci’s latest accomplishment was saving a life Saturday night at the annual Commencement dinner with administrators, trustees and guests.

“Last night your medical expertise was in full evidence at the annual Commencement dinner where you saved a life by skillfully deploying the Heimlich maneuver. It’s true,” Knapp said.

2. Swap your phone

Tim Cook opened his address with a simple reminder for graduates and guests: Silence your cell phones.

For members of the 20,000-person crowd who do not have an iPhone, Cook had a surprising suggestion.

“If you don’t have an iPhone, please pass it to the center aisle. Apple has a world-class recycling program,” Cook said.

University President Steven Knapp introduces Commencement speaker and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

University President Steven Knapp introduces Commencement speaker and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

3. Graduates react with emoji

When Cook took the stage, four graduates raised posters with fist emoji. Each poster had one emoji of a different skin tone.

Apple updated the emoji application last month offering several skin tones instead of the traditional yellow option.

4. Cook captures the moment

During his speech, Cook boasted about the iPhone’s ability to capture any moment, because people are always able to snap a photo with a camera in their pockets. Before finishing his speech, Cook took a photo on his iPhone of the Class of 2015. Several graduates posted selfies with Cook after the ceremony.

“I’d like to take one photo of you, because this is the best view in the world,” Cook said.

Like this photo? Find your own personal photo from the ceremony at:

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Friday, Oct. 29, 2010 11:33 a.m.

Mike Bloomberg to be Commencement speaker

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will be the University-wide Commencement speaker this May.

Bloomberg, an independent, was named by Forbes magazine the 10th richest person in the United States in 2010. Besides his role as mayor, Bloomberg is noted for his extensive philanthropy. Through the Bloomberg Family Foundation, he donated or pledged almost $700 million to charities before 2007, according to the Chronicle of Education.

He has served as mayor of New York City for the last nine years.

The announcement was made by University President Steven Knapp during the GW Global Forum in New York City Friday.

“Michael Bloomberg has an extraordinary record of achievement as a public servant, philanthropist and business leader,” Knapp said in a statement. “He is also an inspiring speaker, and we are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address the class of 2011.”

Mayor Bloomberg will speak to about 25,000 graduates and guests and receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service on May 15.

“I think that his success in business and politics will really speak to GW students,” Jason Lifton, Student Association President said. “We’re excited to have him here.”

First lady Michelle Obama was the Commencement speaker for the Class of 2010’s ceremony. She stressed public service in her address to graduates. Previous Commencement speakers also include Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama; former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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