On Tuesday morning, President Pamela Gann sent an email to the Claremont McKenna community announcing George R. Roberts, CMC class of 1966, as the 2013 commencement speaker.
Roberts is most widely known for co-founding the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co with fellow CMC alum Henry R. Kravis, who graduated from CMC in 1967.
Gann mentioned several of his accomplishments in her email, noting: “Mr. Roberts also has served as a director or trustee of several cultural and educational institutions, including Claremont McKenna College. In addition to his generous philanthropy at CMC, he is the founder and chairman of the board of directors of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), a San Francisco-based venture philanthropy organization that creates jobs and employment opportunities for people facing the greatest barriers to work. REDF provides equity-like grants and business assistance to a portfolio of nonprofits in California to start and expand social enterprises—nonprofit-operated businesses selling goods and services demanded by the marketplace, while intentionally employing young people and adults who would otherwise face bleak prospects of ever getting a job.”
Aside from his various professional accomplishments, Roberts has a long history of donating to CMC. The construction of the academic buildings Roberts North and Roberts South, as well as the founding of the Roberts Environmental Center, were generously funded by Roberts.
In addition to providing funding for the construction of several buildings, Roberts has continually donated to the college, giving $50 million last year as part of the school’s Campaign for Claremont McKenna.
So far, students from the class of 2013 have mixed reactions to the news that Roberts will speak at commencement. Shane Kunselman ’13 said, “On the plus side, I think having Roberts speak at commencement is demonstrative of CMC’s familial culture. It’s great that students will have the opportunity to hear directly from someone who has had—and continues to have—such a profund role in shaping the CMC experience. Though Roberts is unique because of his intimate connection with the College, I do hope that we look beyond the world of finance when considering future speakers, as three of our last four have been from that field.”
Senior Priscilla Hsu agreed that the school needs to diversify its pool of speakers. “Roberts seems like a really nice guy; I met him at the Silicon Valley networking trip. That being said, Kravis spoke at commencement three years ago, and I think it seems political that the partner of the same firm (KKR) is giving our commencement address.”
Ethan Gilbert ’13 expressed frustration that the students did not have say in choosing the speaker. “It’s unfortunate that we’re not allowed to express our opinion in choosing the person who is going to be speaking at one of the most monumental events of our life,” he said. He added, “It also seems like a very bureaucratic move.”
Senior Class President Clare Riva ’13 told the Forum, “I think Mr. Roberts will be an excellent graduation speaker. His dedication to CMC, shown through both his giving and his willingness to participate in the college in a hands-on way, will surely show through in his commencement address. And as both a graduate of CMC and one of our most successful alumni, he is well-suited to give a speech that is both inspiring and specific to our soon-to-be alma mater!”
The 66th Annual Commencement ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 18, at 2:00 p.m.