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Seniors react to Commencement speaker choice

Laura McCrystal | Thursday, January 27, 2011

When senior Rochelle Rieger heard that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would speak at her Commencement, she felt a personal connection to Gates’ perspective.

Rieger will graduate from Notre Dame’s Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in May and will begin serving as a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy.

“For what I’m doing after school, I think what he has to say will be very pertinent,” Rieger said.

Gates will address the Class of 2011 and receive an honorary degree from the University at the May 22 Commencement ceremony.

Gates has been secretary of defense since 2006, when he was nominated by President George W. Bush. Under President Barack Obama, he became the only defense secretary asked to remain in his role by a newly-elected president and the first secretary of defense to serve under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

He is also a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and former president of Texas A&M University.

In a July 2010 interview with Foreign Policy Magazine, Gates said he planned to leave office in 2011.

“It would be a mistake to wait until January 2012,” Gates said. “This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year.”

In the interview, Gates said by January 2011 he would have been in his position longer than all but four of the country’s 21 previous secretaries of defense.

“I think the toughest thing in public life is knowing when to dance off the stage,” he said.

For seniors who do not share Rieger’s personal connection to Gates’ position, reactions to the University’s announcement varied.

Senior Colin Parker said while he does not know much about Gates, he is interested to hear a speech from a high-ranking government official.

“I’m not too familiar with his career, but I know he’s running two wars.” Parker said. “It could be really cool. He’s a really prominent guy with an interesting history.”

Senior Steven Ouyang said he was disappointed when he heard Gates would speak at his graduation.

“He’s not a glamorous choice for a speaker,” Ouyang said. “And in the end I think he’s going to be a good choice to be a Commencement speaker. He’s been chosen and it is who it is.”

Senior Karl Kingery said he was happy with the choice of Gates as Commencement speaker.

“I believe that he is a great man with great insights because he has served our country with pride the last few years,” Kingery said.

Rachel Roseberry, also a senior, said she looks forward to Gates’ visit to Notre Dame.

“I guess I hadn’t had a prior opinion on who was going to be speaking so when I saw it I thought that it was an appropriate choice,” she said.

Roseberry said she had heard positive things about his time as president at Texas A&M.

“I know a couple people from Texas A&M who really loved Robert Gates when he was president there, so I have high hopes for his Commencement speech here,” she said. “I like the fact that he has participated in a college setting before so hopefully he’ll be able to speak to college seniors as they’re leaving a university.”