Commencement 2010: A treasured past, a sparkling future

Commencement begins 8:30 a.m. May 21 in Brookings Quadrangle

For students of the Class of 2010, one journey ends, and another begins.

Graduates leave Washington University this week to begin careers as artists and accountants, surgeons and social workers. Others seek to serve through volunteering or teaching. Still others will pursue advanced degrees in their chosen fields or simply search for their place in the world.

Whatever the pursuit, all can depart knowing they — whether through service, scholarship or simply a friendly embrace — have made a lasting impact on the university community.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton will confer degrees at the 149th Commencement ceremony, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday, May 21, in Brookings Quadrangle on the Danforth Campus. The 2,706 candidates will receive 2,809 degrees, of which 1,463 are undergraduate and 1,346 are graduate and professional.

There are 535 doctoral candidates, comprising 79 for the doctor of philosophy degree from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, 251 for the juris doctoris degree from the School of Law, one for the juris scientiae doctoris from the School of Law, two for the doctor of science degree from the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and 202 for degrees from the School of Medicine.

In the event of rain, Commencement still will take place in the Quad.

If threatening weather endangers safety, the violent weather plan would be activated by 7 a.m. on the day of Commencement, Friday, May 21. If the plan is activated, the announcement will be posted on the university’s home page,, and publicized by local media.

Under the plan, the ceremony for undergraduates will take place in the Athletic Complex, and graduate and professional degree candidates will receive their diplomas at their schools’ scheduled Commencement receptions and recognition ceremonies.

Streaming video of the ceremony in the Quad will be broadcast online at The webcast also can be viewed in Room 110 of January Hall, Room 100 of Busch Hall, and Room 100 (wheelchair accessible) and Room 118 of Brown Hall.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, PhD, will deliver the Commencement address.

Chu, a Nobel laureate and a strong advocate for alternative energy sources, will receive an honorary doctor of science degree during the ceremony.

Chu won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics with William Phillips, PhD, and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, PhD, for developing a method to use laser beams and extreme cold to stop single atoms in their tracks, allowing them to be studied in greater detail.

He has devoted his recent scientific career to the search for new solutions to energy challenges and stopping global climate change.

Chu, who was sworn in as the nation’s 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy on Jan. 21, 2009, is charged with helping implement President Barack Obama’s agenda to invest in alternative and renewable energy, end the nation’s reliance on foreign oil, address the global climate crisis and create millions of new jobs.

Prior to his Cabinet-level appointment, Chu was director since 2004 of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he successfully led its pursuit of new alternative and renewable energies. He also was a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Chu was born in 1948 in St. Louis, where his father taught chemical engineering at Washington University.

After attending high school in New Jersey, Chu earned both a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and in physics from the University of Rochester in 1970. He earned a doctorate in physics in 1976 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as an assistant professor.

He left in the fall of 1978 to pursue a career at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories. It was at Bell Labs that he did the work with laser cooling that later would win him the Nobel Prize.

Chu left Bell labs in 1987 to join Stanford University’s faculty. While at Stanford, he expanded his research interests to include polymer physics and biophysics.

Also at Commencement, honorary degrees will be awarded to:

  • Brian J. Druker, MD, director of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Knight Cancer Institute and the JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research, doctor of science;
  • Joanne P. Knight, an active St. Louis community leader, volunteer and generous philanthropist, doctor of humanities;
  • Richard A. Roloff, Washington University alumnus and special assistant to the chancellor, doctor of laws; and
  • Nelson S. “Strobe” Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and former deputy secretary of state from 1994-2001, doctor of laws.

Commencement will begin with the traditional academic procession into the Quad, which will be led by grand marshal Robert E. Wiltenburg, PhD, dean of University College in Arts & Sciences, and then by honorary grand marshal Peter Riesenberg, PhD, professor emeritus of history in Arts & Sciences.

Riesenberg, a beloved member of the faculty from 1960 until his retirement in 1993, was the mainstay of History 101, the history of Western civilization, for generations of students.

Riesenberg, whose research focused on Western civilization, medieval history and the history of citizenship, played a key role in attracting future majors to history.


“His verve and enthusiasm over the many years were an important element in the department’s success,” Derek Hirst, PhD, the William Eliot Smith Professor of History in Arts & Sciences, once said of Riesenberg’s impact.

Riesenberg served on many vital university, community and national committees, including search committees for the chancellor, dean of libraries and dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

He was the chair of many committees, including the Faculty Senate Council (three times) and the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, and he was a faculty representative to the Board of Trustees.

Born in 1925 in New York City, Riesenberg entered Rutgers University in 1942. His education was interrupted by World War II, during which he served for two years in the U.S. Air Force. He graduated from Rutgers with a bachelor’s degree in 1947.

He earned a master’s degree in history in 1949 from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate from Columbia University in 1954. He studied in Rome on two Fulbright Fellowships and a Cutting Fellowship from Columbia University.

He joined Washington University’s history department in 1960 after faculty positions at Swarthmore College and Rutgers.

Among his academic honors, Riesenberg served as a Fulbright scholar, a Social Science Research Council fellow and a Guggenheim fellow, all in Italy, and a fellow at the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies.

His books include Citizenship in the Western Tradition: Plato to Rousseau, The Humanist as Citizen, Inalienability of Sovereignty in Medieval Political Thought, The Medieval Town and his most recent, History of Citizenship: Sparta to Washington.

In retirement on the seacoast of Maine, he paints and exhibits his art, reads and travels. He and his wife, Trudi Spigel, PhD, who coordinated Washington University’s weekly lecture series, the Assembly Series, for 20 years, have traveled widely, including notable trips to Egypt, Israel, Libya, Iran and Syria. They have four children and six grandchildren.

Also at Commencement, approximately 100 alumni from the Class of 1960, celebrating their 50th reunion, will march in the opening procession.

For the 30th consecutive Commencement, the program will begin with music by The Mighty Mississippi Concert Band of St. Louis, under the direction of Dan Presgrave, music director/conductor of the Washington University Symphony Orchestra, the Washington University Wind Ensemble and the St. Louis Wind Symphony.

Thomas W. Sitzler, who will receive a master of music degree from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, will sing “America the Beautiful”

Fernando S. Cutz, president of the senior class, will deliver the student Commencement greeting.

Conferral of academic degrees will follow, with the deans of each of the schools and Edward S. Macias, PhD, provost, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, assisting Wrighton.

After the conferral of degrees, Wrighton will deliver his message to the Class of 2010.

Stephanie Ann Ball, who will receive a master of music degree from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, will conclude the ceremony by singing the “Alma Mater.”

Afterward, the university’s schools will hold receptions for graduates and their guests.