Dignitaries on the Dais

Rutgers University–Camden commencements frequently feature renowned leaders

Namibian President Sam Nujoma in 1997

Almost two decades before President Barack Obama spoke at Rutgers–New Brunswick’s commencement ceremony in 2016, the Rutgers–Camden College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) commencement featured a sitting world leader: Sam Nujoma, president of the Republic of Namibia. The first president of the nation that achieved independence from South Africa, Nujoma was a contemporary of Nelson Mandela in the fight against apartheid. In his 1997 address, he credited Rutgers with helping to establish a national Namibian university, closing his address to cheers: “Long live Rutgers University! Long live the University of Namibia! Long live the spirit of international cooperation!”

José Ramos-Horta in 2000

Many other dignitaries have delivered commencement addresses at Rutgers–Camden. José Ramos-Horta, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to liberate his native East Timor from Indonesian rule, delivered the 2000 Rutgers Law School commencement address. “The message of East Timor is that nothing is impossible,” said Ramos-Horta, who went to serve as the nation’s president  from 2007 to 2012. “Even in our darkest moments, if we have faith, if we have hope, we can move mountains.”

Ben Carson, left, in 2003

National figures whose political fortunes rose in the years after they spoke at Rutgers–Camden include Ben Carson, a former neurologist and presidential candidate now serving as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), at CCAS in 2003, and Joe Biden, a U.S. Senator when he addressed the law school in 2004, five years before he became vice president. Members of Congress have been many, including Representative John Lewis from Georgia in 2006 for law; Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey in 1983 and 1996, both for CCAS; Representative Shirley Chisholm of New York for law and Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina for CCAS, both in 1977; and Eugene McCarthy, former presidential candidate and senator from Minnesota, for CCAS in 1974.

Janet Reno in 1996

The U.S. Attorney General’s Office also has been well-represented: Alberto Gonzalez, who served as White House Counsel and later attorney general, spoke to law in 2004, and Attorney General Janet Reno addressed law in 1996.

In 2017, another prominent figure from Capitol Hill addressed CCAS: Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress and the first woman and African American to hold the post, told graduates, “Your degree is your passport to opportunity. It is your ticket to ride.”

For information on this year’s commencement speakers, visit camden.rutgers.edu.

Posted in: 2019 Spring, On Campus

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