U.N. high commissioner for refugees is graduation speaker

Ruud Lubbers, United Nations high commissioner for refugees, will be the guest speaker for spring commencement at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 11. He will also receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Nearly 2,700 students are eligible to receive degrees at the ceremony, which is scheduled for Foreman Field.

A former prime minister of the Netherlands, Lubbers began his appointment shortly after the U.N. commemorated the office's 50th anniversary in 2000 and took up the mission laid out by the U.N. General Assembly: to provide protection and assistance to refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is one of the world's principal humanitarian agencies with a staff of more than 5,000 personnel worldwide who help an estimated 22.3 million people in over 120 countries.

Lubbers' work "has taken him through most of the troubled spots in the world," said President Roseann Runte. "His dedication to humanity and the cause of children, the poor and the displaced is exemplary. He offers us an example of leadership and volunteerism. A truly great man, he has made humanitarian aid his life's work."

Lubbers was elected to a three-year term by the U.N. General Assembly. He succeeded Sadako Ogata, a Japanese diplomat and academic, who had served since 1991. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in nominating Lubbers, said he brought with him "an extraordinary record of high-level accomplishment, not only as prime minister of 12 years but also as a scholar - as a professor - and an active participant in the work of various private-sector and nongovernment organizations."

When Lubbers took office in Geneva last year, he noted the agency's proud record of serving refugees, a legacy that he said must be continued, despite UNHCR's dependence on donor funding. "We need financial resources - the cause of refugees deserves financial resources. The UNHCR's critical mission in the international community has become increasingly urgent as events have evolved on the world stage, especially during the past few months."

Lubbers was educated at Canisius College in Najmegen, Netherlands, and the Netherlands School of Economics. After managing a family company, he began a long political career in 1973 when he joined the government as minister for economic affairs. He served as prime minister from 1982-94 and was the longest-serving post-war premier.

After leaving politics, Lubbers taught courses on globalization and sustainable development at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and as a visiting professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He was also vice-chairman of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans and chair of Globus, the Institute for Globalization and Development based in Tilburg. His most recent post was as head of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Two colleges will have guest speakers at their post-commencement ceremonies. Macon Brock, president and CEO of Dollar Tree Stores Inc., will address graduates of the College of Business and Public Administration, while 1984 alumna Sarah Hall, president of Tamaya Chemical Corp., will speak to the College of Sciences graduates.

University officials will determine if the main ceremony will be moved to Scope, based on weather reports, by noon Friday, May 10. Details will be posted at www.odu.edu/news.