Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III Will Give Address for GW’s Commencement Celebration

April 19, 2021

Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, will be the Commencement speaker at the George Washington University’s Bicentennial Commencement virtual celebration on May 16.  Mr. Bunch is the first African American and first historian to lead the Smithsonian Institution.  He also will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, which he has asked that the university confer when it is able to hold an in-person celebration on the National Mall.

Mr. Bunch oversees all Smithsonian functions, including 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and many research and education centers. Before leading the Smithsonian Institution, Mr. Bunch founded the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), one of the Smithsonian museums, which has welcomed more than 6 million visitors since it opened in September 2016. Mr. Bunch has curated award-winning exhibits for the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, transformed the Chicago Historical Society for its 150th anniversary and developed a major permanent exhibition on the American presidency for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama appointed Mr. Bunch to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and in 2019, Mr. Bunch was awarded the Freedom Medal, one of the Four Freedom Awards from the Roosevelt Institute, for his contribution to American culture as a historian and storyteller, and the National Equal Justice Award from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund.

A widely published author, Mr. Bunch also served as a museum studies and history professor at GW from 1990 to 2000.

"Secretary Bunch's contributions to the world, through his leadership of the Smithsonian, dedication to teaching and research and far-reaching influence on our understanding of history and culture are truly remarkable," GW President Thomas LeBlanc said. "His participation in our Commencement celebration is particularly special as we reflect on our university's 200-year history and role in creating a better world, including through our museums, libraries, the arts and research. Secretary Bunch will be an inspiration to our graduates."

Nelson A. Carbonell, Jr., B.S. ’85, will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service during the celebration. Mr. Carbonell served on GW’s Board of Trustees for 17 years until May 2019, with the last six years as chair who ushered in a number of transformative changes for the university. Mr. Carbonell’s contributions during his time on the board include spearheading the construction of the state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Hall, reorganization of GW’s medical center and the acquisition of the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design.

A full scholarship recipient as a student, Mr. Carbonell saw access to a GW education as a priority during his years on the board, while also establishing the Nelson and Michele Carbonell Engineering Endowed Scholarship at GW with his wife. That fund has helped open doors to a GW education for 14 students since its inception. In addition to donating time and expertise, the Carbonell’s also established the Carbonell Family Professorship in Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders and made donations to athletics that led to the creation of the Nelson and Michele Carbonell Academic Center at the Charles E. Smith Center.

GW will hold its Virtual Commencement Celebration at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, May 16. The Class of 2021, families and guests are invited to watch the virtual celebration on the commencement.gwu.edu homepage.