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.”

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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.

Roberts’ partner, Kravis, gave the commencement address in 2010. Last year in 2012, N.R. Narayana Murthy delivered CMC’s commencement address.


  1. It’s a bit ridiculous that the school that advertises itself as the producers of leaders won’t even allow those individuals a voice in the commencement speaker selection process. It’s also disturbing that the commencement address can be bought with a donation to the College.

    • What is your evidence that Roberts “bought” the commencement address? Doesn’t it make perfect sense that the school would just give this to him as a thank you for the $50 million?

      And even if he did “buy” the speech, do you think $50m is too low a bar? How much freaking money *do* you have to give before you get to give the speech?

      • Evidence- the seemingly lack of any search process for the commencement speaker. While I certainly think a speech would be a nice gesture on behalf of the College in regards to the donation, I would rather seniors help chose the speaker who will be speaking at one of the most memorable events of the year. I worry that this sets a precedent for future years and the lack of student input is dismaying. The monetary donation level is nice but he should have been asked to give a speech separate to commencement unless there was an overwhelming feeling amongst students that he should be the individual to give the commencement address.

        • The “seemingly lack” of any search process is simply representative of your lack of access to the search process. There are rumors floating around that the committee in charge of selecting the commencement speaker extended offers to both Melinda Gates and Michelle Obama.

        • so i take it your access to the search process affords you the access to the “rumors floating around”? Don’t be pretentious

  2. I think more people should be grateful that we have such generous alumni and welcome perspective from incredibly successful people who have made giving back to CMC a high priority in their lives. If you go back and watch Kravis’ speech I think you will be surprised to find that it was unrelated to finance (and that it was really good).

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