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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Recognizing Georgetown University

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2014-01-16

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, I am not anyone would call a ``blue blood''--at least not in the conventional sense of that term. My ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower. My mom was an immigrant; she came to this country from Lithuania when she was 2 years old. But I do have some blue blood in my veins--Hoya blue--for Georgetown University.

    With help of affordable loans from the United States Government, this immigrant's son from East St. Louis, IL was able to earn two degrees from Georgetown University--an undergraduate degree from the Walsh School of Foreign Service and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

    In addition, it was a college internship while I was a Georgetown undergraduate 50 years ago that first brought me to the United States Senate. I had the amazing good luck to land an internship with Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois--one of the great ones. He had a brilliant mind and enormous moral and political courage. Had I not gone to Georgetown, it is likely that I never would have met Paul Douglas and I would not be here today. Had I not gone to Georgetown, I never would have met some of my greatest teachers.

    I owe Georgetown a great deal, so I would like to take a moment to say thank you as this great university prepares to celebrate an historic milestone. Next week--on January 23--Georgetown University will celebrate its 225th anniversary.

    January 23, 1789. That was 6 weeks before the United States Constitution took effect and 6 weeks before the first United States Congress was seated.

    Georgetown was founded by John Carroll, America's first Catholic bishop. It was America's first Catholic and first Jesuit college. In his proposal for the new university, Father John Carroll wrote that in keeping with ``the liberal Principle of our Constitution, the [school] will be open to Students of Every Religious Profession.'' That steadfast commitment to religious liberty remains a hallmark of Georgetown University. Today, only about 40 percent of Georgetown students identify as Roman Catholic. The other 60 percent are Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon and members of other faith traditions.

    [[Page S434]] On November 22, 1791, Georgetown enrolled its first student, William Gaston, from North Carolina. Due to illness shortly thereafter, William Gaston was also Georgetown's first dropout.

    But he turned out well. He eventually graduated from Princeton University and returned to North Carolina, where he was elected to the State Senate . . . the state House of Commons . . . and the United States House of Representatives, making him the first Georgetown student to serve in Congress.

    Many other Georgetown graduates have gone on to serve in elected office. Among them are are former President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, several members of this Congress, including the President Pro Tem of this Senate, Senator Patrick Leahy.

    My State of Illinois may hold the current record for statewide office holders whose views of public service Georgetown helped to shape. Not only are my Senate partner, Senator Mark Kirk and I both Georgetown graduates but so are our Governor Pat Quinn, our Lieutenant Governor, Sheila Simon, and our state Attorney General, Lisa Madigan.

    In the years following the Civil War, Father Patrick Healy helped transform Georgetown into a modern university. So profound was his influence that Father Healy is often called Georgetown's ``second founder.'' Father Healy's accomplishments are all the more extraordinary when you consider that the laws of Georgia, the State in which he was born, made it a crime even to teach him to read. You see, Father Patrick Healy was born a slave. His father was a wealthy Irish American cotton farmer and his mother was mixed race--half white and half African American. His parents joined in a common-law marriage and gave all of their children excellent educations in Northern and European schools.

    Father Healy's mixed-race background was not widely known until the 1960s, when he was recognized as the first American of African ancestry to earn a PhD, the first to become a Jesuit priest, and the first to be president of a predominantly white college.

    Georgetown University today is one of the top research universities in the world. The university today has around 7,500 undergraduate and over 9,500 post-graduate students from every State and territory in the United States and more than 130 foreign nations. In 2001, Georgetown gained its first lay president, John DeGioia, a philosopher by training and a champion of civil discourse, for whom I have great respect.

    Education at Georgetown is rooted in the Jesuit tradition: ``for the glory of God and the well-being of humankind.'' I am continually impressed by the commitment of Georgetown students to causes of social and economic justice.

    Georgetown has the second most politically active student body in the United States according to the Princeton Review. Georgetown is also one of the top-10 yearly producers of Peace Corps volunteers. Georgetown students founded one of the first chapters of STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere. And Georgetown faculty, administrators and--especially--students remain fearless and dedicated champions of a cause that is very close to my heart, the DREAM Act.

    I could not speak about my alma mater without bragging a little about its athletic teams and programs. The men's basketball team is particularly noteworthy. In 1984, it was the NCAA championship under Coach John Thompson. All told, the Georgetown men's basketball team is tied for the most Big East conference tournament titles with 7, and has made 27 NCAA tournament.

    U.S. News & World Report lists Georgetown's athletics program among the 20 best in the Nation. Perhaps even more impressive, Georgetown's student athletes have a 94 percent graduation success rate.

    I did not start out at Georgetown. I spent my freshman year at another Jesuit university, St. Louis University, just across the Mississippi River from my home town of East St. Louis, IL.

    Partway through my first year, I decided that I wanted to go away for school. So, I went to the university guidance office, looked through some pamphlets and chose two. I had never been to either place.

    I told my mom that I wanted to go away for school and I had narrowed it down to two choices. I said the first is a school in California called Stanford. Mom said, ``No, if you go to California you'll never come home.'' I said the other is a school in Washington called Georgetown University.'' She thought for a minute and then said, ``OK. Your brother goes to Washington frequently for his work. He can keep an eye on you.'' That is how I ended up attending one of the best universities in America and the world.

    My mom is gone now. But on the eve of Georgetown University's 225th anniversary, I want to thank her for steering me to a truly great university. I want to thank all of the professors who taught me-- brilliant, brave men like Professor Jan Karski.

    Finally, I want to commend President Jack DeGioia and all of the Georgetown administrators, faculty, alumni, supporters, and students for continuing to uphold Georgetown's mission of academic excellent and service to God and humankind.


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