United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will address graduating seniors at Emory’s 166th Commencement ceremony on May 9.
According to Vice President and Deputy to the President Gary Hauk, Napolitano not only represents aspirations shared by students, but also holds a position with high relevance to events that have shaped students’ coming of age.
“The 9/11 attacks are perhaps the flashbulb moment for this generation of college students and helped to shape the world in which they’ve come to age, the world into which they set forth,” Hauk wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel
He added that though the attacks occurred almost ten years ago, they mark a milestone in students’ coming to maturity.
“And in that sense, Secretary Napolitano’s appearance at Commencement may represent a kind of closing of a circle,” Hauk wrote.
Following President Obama’s nomination, Napolitano was confirmed for her current post in January 2009. Napolitano, who is the third secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, oversees the department’s duties concerning counterterrorism, border security and disaster preparedness, response and recovery, among others.
Previously, Napolitano served as governor of Arizona and became the first woman to chair the National Governors’ Association. During her tenure as governor, Time
magazine named her one of the top five governors in the country. She also became Arizona’s first female attorney general, served as U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona and came in at number 51 on Forbe
s’ list of 100 most powerful women in 2009.
Napolitano graduated from Santa Clara University as the school’s first female valedictorian and a recipient of the Truman Scholarship, before receiving her Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Hauk, who oversees the selection of the keynote speaker at Commencement, wrote that Napolitano was not on the final list that the Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee — which includes both students and administrators and is responsible for suggesting potential speakers — submitted to University President James W. Wagner last spring, but was among those initially considered.
“We vigorously pursued the persons on the final list last spring and through the summer,” Hauk wrote. “In the end, we had an opportunity in mid-autumn to extend an invitation to Secretary Napolitano and are grateful that she was available at relatively late notice.”
Napolitano will address an expected audience of more than 14,000, including approximately 3,600 graduating seniors. She is the first female speaker to address the graduating class since Marian Wright Edelman, an activist for children’s rights, delivered the keynote in 2006. Previous Commencement speakers have also included California Gov. and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in 2010, former President of Mexico Vicente Fox in 2009 and Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus in 2008.
“As our graduating students set forth to shape their own lives and careers, they will be well served by the example of Janet Napolitano, who has used her exceptional intelligence, integrity and humanity on behalf of positive transformation in the world,” Wagner said in a press release prepared by the University.
Hauk noted that Napolitano’s personal achievements and “significant service to the common good” represent the kind of aspirations that many graduating students share, “putting their high intellect and character to use in service of humanity.”
The University planned to announce Napolitano’s selection to the advisory committee and the honorary degree committee on Jan. 18. Honorary degrees to be given at Commencement will be determined after the board considers recommendations at its February meeting.
— Contact Tiffany Han.