Bush, Clinton Speak at Emotional Tulane University Commencement

May 13, 2006

Mike Strecker
Phone: 504-865-5210

With the presence of presidents and the scrutiny of national media, Tulane University's 2006 Commencement entered into history as an event that rode a range of musical and emotional notes and paid homage to both the students and the city of New Orleans for overcoming the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

The occasion was highlighted by addresses from George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, and William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, and was punctuated by a number of poignant moments and even surprises -- including an unannounced appearance by top-rated television talk show host and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, a New Orleans native.

The event was Tulane's first universitywide commencement since the storm put two-thirds of the campus under water, inflicting $300 million in property damages and revenue losses and forcing the university to close for the fall 2005 semester.

"You will take with you always, more than any Tulane class that has come before you, the strength of character developed and honed over the past year," said Tulane President Scott Cowen in his remarks to students and their families. The themes of endurance and developing strength of character amidst adversity were echoed in the remarks by Bush and Clinton.

"The floodwater may have breached the levees that surround this city and destroyed home after home and block after block," said Bush. "But we know they couldn't break the spirit of the people that call this remarkable and improbable city home."

President Clinton noted the symbolism of the musical invocation performed at the beginning of the program. "The invocation was a Dixieland version of 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee' and was done in a way the Dixieland bands have always done it -- beginning as a moving, beautiful dirge and then, at the end of the funeral service, a new beginning, played fast and happy," said Clinton. "Life is like that. Life is about new beginnings. I wish you many."

An exclamation point to the morning was a surprise appearance by DeGeneres, who came out wearing a bathrobe. "I heard everyone was going to be wearing robes," she deadpanned and then offered a string of comical advice to the graduating class: "Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise and floss."

Nearly 2,200 graduates and more than 450 faculty members participated in the event, which was attended by a capacity crowd of 17,000. More than 70 representatives of media outlets nationwide, including all major networks and CNN, were on hand to cover the commencement ceremony.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000