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University selects ’05 grad speaker

Eileen Duffy | Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The President of the United States won’t be speaking to Notre Dame’s 2005 graduates, but a man who has held three presidencies in his life will.The University announced Tuesday that Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation and former president of Brown University and the New York Public Library, will be the principal speaker at its 160th commencement exercises on May 15.Gregorian has held high-ranking positions in a wide variety of fields, making him an ideal selection, University President Father Edward Malloy said in a press release.”In all his many roles in public life, Dr. Gregorian has displayed extraordinary leadership,” Malloy said. “I know that his remarks will be an ideal capstone for [our graduates’] educational experiences on our campus.”Gregorian has served at the helm of New York’s Carnegie Corporation since 1997. The corporation, which was founded in 1911, seeks to carry out founder Andrew Carnegie’s vision of philanthropy, which Carnegie said should aim “to do real and permanent good in the world.” Awarding grants in four areas (education, international peace and security, international development and strengthening U.S. democracy), the corporation expects its fiscal year 2004-2005 grants to total over $80 million.From 1989 to 1997, Gregorian served as the president of Brown University, where he taught freshman and senior history seminars and a course on Alexis de Tocqueville. In addition, he led capital campaigns that helped triple the endowment there.Prior to that, Gregorian served for eight years as president of the New York Public Library – no small task, considering that this system has four research libraries and 83 circulating libraries. He is credited with pulling the library out of financial crisis.Gregorian was born to Armenian parents in Tabriz, Iran. After receiving his elementary education there and his secondary education in Lebanon, he enrolled at Stanford University in 1956. He graduated with honors just two years later.In 1964, he earned a doctorate in history and the humanities, also from Stanford.Gregorian taught European and Middle Eastern history for eight years at San Francisco State College, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Texas. He then joined the University of Pennsylvania faculty. In 1972, he became the founding dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences there; in 1972, he became the provost.Senior Erin Mai said she is “excited and proud” of Notre Dame’s decision to bring someone with a “different perspective.””This is a Catholic university, but it’s still important for people to be exposed to different ideas and different religions,” she said. “[Gregorian] seems to know a lot about Islam, and I think that could bring a lot to his speech.”Senior Galen Loughrey agreed, calling the University’s choice of Gregorian a “great change” from the past commencement speakers.”I would hope [Gregorian] would bring a unique perspective, given his international experience, that might not be at Notre Dame,” he said.Gregorian has received myriad accolades and grants during his career.Currently serving as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Gregorian has received fellowships from the John Smith Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council and the American Philosophical Society.He received the National Ethnic Coalition of Organization’s Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1986, which is annually presented to “Americans of diverse origins for their outstanding contributions to their own ethnic groups and to American society,” according to that organization’s Web site. He has also been honored by U.S. presidents. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Gregorian with the National Humanities Medal; last year, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.Gregorian is the author of “Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946;” “Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith;” and his autobiography, “The Road to Home.”

Contact Eileen Duffy at eduffy1@nd.edu