Release date: May 10, 2004
Contact: Deb Hammacher, Associate Director, University Media Relations,
at 404-727-0644 or

Past President of Ireland to Speak at Emory Commencement

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson delivered the keynote address at Emory University's 159th commencement ceremony Monday, May 10. She also was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree. The three remaining honorary degree recipients also gave brief remarks when each was presented with his or her honorary degree. They are medieval historian Caroline Walker Bynum, president emeritus of the U.S. Olympic Committee LeRoy T. Walker, and Emory trustee emeritus James Bryan Williams.

"I am honored that the 2004 commencement ceremonies, an event celebrating students, faculty, staff, parents, families and friends, also paid tribute to these four extraordinary individuals," says Emory President James Wagner, who presided over his first Emory commencement since becoming president in the fall.

The second annual Class Day, a new tradition for graduating seniors, took place Thursday, May 8 and featured a keynote speaker selected by the student body.

Robinson's selection highlights the deep ties between Emory and Ireland, including a newly launched Irish studies program and the university's extensive Irish literary collections, including a major portion of the archives of Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, last year's keynote speaker.

A lifelong advocate of universal respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, Robinson was elected Ireland’s first woman president in 1990, serving for seven years, and served as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. She was a senator in Ireland for 20 years prior to becoming president.

Currently Robinson is the director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, an organization that promotes human rights accountability into governance and global challenges, similar in ideals to The Carter Center at Emory. Last December, Robinson delivered the Rosalynn Carter Distinguished Lecture in Public Policy on campus.

Born in Mayo County, Ireland, she was educated at Trinity College (Dublin), and holds law degrees from the King's Inns (Dublin), Harvard University and Oxford University. As president of Ireland, Robinson placed special emphasis on the needs of developing countries, linking the history of the Great Irish Famine to current nutrition, poverty and policy issues to create a partnership between developed and developing countries. She was the first head of state to visit Somalia following the 1992 conflict, for which she received the 1993 CARE Humanitarian Award for Emergency Relief, and she was the first head of state to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

As high commissioner, she focused on countries and regions with a past history of human rights abuses, traveling to places such as South Africa, Colombia and Cambodia during her first year. In 1998 she was the first high commissioner to visit China, signing an agreement to improve human rights there. She also strengthened human rights monitoring in conflict areas such as Kosovo.

Her numerous international awards include the Winston Churchill Medal, the International Human Rights Award, the Global Leadership Award, the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal, the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding and the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize. Combining career and family, Robinson is married and has three children.


Emory University is known for its demanding academics, outstanding undergraduate college of arts and sciences, highly ranked professional schools and state-of-the-art research facilities. For more than a decade Emory has been named one of the country's top 25 national universities by U.S. News & World Report. In addition to its nine schools, the university encompasses The Carter Center, Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory Healthcare, a comprehensive metropolitan health care system.


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