Richard A. Gephardt, former U.S. House minority leader, has been selected to give the 2005 Commencement address, according to Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.
The University’s 144th Commencement will begin at 8:30 a.m. May 20 in Brookings Quadrangle. During the ceremony, Gephardt will also receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
Gephardt stepped down in 2004 after serving nearly three decades as U.S. representative for Missouri’s 3rd District. A two-time presidential candidate, Gephardt also served as majority leader for Democrats in the House.
“We are proud to have Richard Gephardt as our Commencement speaker this year,” Wrighton said. “His political leadership, integrity and devotion to his constituents during his nearly three decades of service to the state of Missouri and the St. Louis area as a U.S. congressman is an inspiring example of public service.
“As he begins the next stage of his life and as Washington University inaugurates its new Richard A. Gephardt Institute for Public Service, I look forward to hearing his message to our graduates. Having heard him speak before, I am confident that all in attendance will come away uplifted and inspired.”
Last month, the University announced the establishment of the Gephardt Institute in his honor. Its goal is to encourage people, especially students and older citizens, to become involved in public service.
Gephardt grew up in the same working-class neighborhood on the south side of St. Louis that he represented in Congress for 28 years.
While his parents, a milk truck driver and a secretary, did not finish high school, they instilled in him a lifelong desire to strive and succeed. Gephardt was able to continue his education past high school with the help of a church scholarship and student loans.
Gephardt earned a bachelor’s degree in 1962 from Northwestern University, where he served as student body president. Shortly after earning a juris doctoris in 1965 from the University of Michigan Law School, he began a career in public service as a precinct captain in St. Louis’ 14th Ward.
A partner in the Thompson & Mitchell Law firm from 1965-1977, he was twice elected a St. Louis alderman, serving from 1971-76.
Gephardt, who was a member of the U.S. Air National Guard from 1965-1971, was first elected to represent Missouri’s 3rd District in 1976. As a House freshman, he served on the Ways and Means and Budget committees, where he became a national leader on health care, trade and tax fairness.
In 1984, he was elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the fourth-ranking leadership post in the House.
In 1987, Gephardt became the first Democrat to enter the 1988 presidential race, where he won the Iowa Democratic Caucus and helped frame the economic issues that dominated the election.
He was elected House majority leader by a wide margin in 1989. His most notable accomplishments included the House’s passing President Clinton’s economic plan to cut the deficit, investing in education, cutting taxes for working families and raising taxes for the wealthy.
After the Republican Party won control of the chamber in 1994, Democrats chose Gephardt as minority leader.
Gephardt also used his leadership role in Congress in the efforts to raise the minimum wage; curtail rollbacks of affirmative action; pass the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform legislation; include labor and environmental standards in U.S. trade agreements; block White House efforts to roll back arsenic standards in drinking water; win passage of environmental legislation to clean up brownfields; and secure protections for family farms.
In August 1999, Gephardt and U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo., received the Science Coalition’s Langer Award in recognition of their advocacy for federal government support of basic research. The coalition comprises some 400 organizations, institutions and individuals that support research funding.
In 2004, Gephardt pursued the Democratic presidential nomination.
Gephardt has been married to Jane Gephardt for nearly four decades. They have three children: Matt, a software developer; Chrissy, a Democratic activist; and Kate, a teacher.