President of Ireland to speak at IU Bloomington commencements, receive honorary degree

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary O'Neill to address graduate commencement ceremony

  • April 18, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill will be speakers at Indiana University Bloomington commencement ceremonies next month.

Both are IU Bloomington alumni -- President Higgins received a Master of Arts degree in 1967 and O’Neill a Master of Public Affairs degree in 1966 -- and both will receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees during their commencement appearances.

President Higgins is the ninth president of Ireland. A passionate political voice, a poet and writer, an academic statesman, a human rights advocate, a promoter of inclusive citizenship and a champion of creativity within Irish society, President Higgins has served at every level of public life in Ireland, including as Ireland’s first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (the country’s regions in which Irish is the predominant language).

O’Neill is recognized for leadership and analytic skills that have been applied successfully across all sectors of the economy -- public, private and nonprofit. He spent 13 years as chairman and CEO of the aluminum corporation Alcoa and in 2001 was appointed the 72nd U.S. secretary of the treasury by President George W. Bush.

“Indiana University is deeply honored to have two outstanding alumni, both recognized internationally for their long commitment to public service, addressing our graduates this spring in Bloomington,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “Michael D. Higgins’ passionate voice has brought fresh and deserved focus to such pressing issues as access to higher education, international human rights and inclusive citizenship, while Paul O’Neill’s demonstrated excellence stretches from the corporate boardroom to the White House and to social initiatives like quality health care. From varied backgrounds, with diverse success stories, these two IU alumni exemplify the opportunities and the achievements our new graduates may soon come to know.”

“In different ways, these two inspiring alumni personify IU’s global impact,” IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel said. “Our students have an astonishing opportunity to see, through their lives, how their futures might unfold.”

President Higgins will speak at the undergraduate commencement ceremonies, which begin at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, May 10. A presentation of his honorary doctoral degree will take place at each commencement.

O’Neill will address degree recipients at the graduate commencement ceremony at 3 p.m. Friday, May 9, at which time his honorary doctoral degree will be presented.

Michael D. Higgins

Michael D. Higgins was born in Limerick and was raised in County Clare. He was a factory worker and a clerk before becoming the first in his family to complete a college education. He studied at the University College Galway in Ireland, the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and here at Indiana University, where he earned a master’s degree in sociology in 1967.

As a lecturer in political science and sociology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and in the United States, Michael D. Higgins became a passionate proponent of extending access to higher education beyond the walls of established universities. At the National University of Ireland, Galway, he was centrally involved in the development of extramural studies, and he traveled extensively across the west of Ireland to establish accessible evening classes for interested citizens.

A desire to work directly for equality and justice led Michael D. Higgins to enter public life, and he began serving as a public representative at increasing levels of responsibility, from local councilor, to Mayor of Galway, to nine years in the Seanad (the upper house of the Irish parliament), to 25 years in Dáil Éireann (the lower house and principal chamber) before being elected President in 2011.

As Ireland’s first Minister for the Arts Culture, and the Gaeltacht, from 1993 to 1997, Michael D. Higgins reinvigorated the Irish film industry and established Irish-language television (Teilifís na Gaeilge, now TG4). He also formed a rich network of local arts and cultural venues, offering access to citizens across Ireland to these essential facilities. Moreover, he drove the revitalization of Ireland’s canal network, resulting in more than 1,000 kilometers of navigable waterways, supporting thousands of jobs, and creating wealth in many rural and economically deprived areas.

President Higgins has, like many in Ireland, seen generations of his family emigrate. He has a strong interest and solidarity with the Irish abroad and has been a regular visitor to Irish centers in Britain.

Throughout his life, Michael D. Higgins has campaigned for human rights and for the promotion of peace and democracy in Ireland and in many other parts of the world, including Nicaragua, Chile, Cambodia, Iraq, and Somalia. In 1992, he was the first recipient of the Seán MacBride Peace Prize from the International Peace Bureau in Helsinki, in recognition of his work for peace and justice in many parts of the world.

Michael D. Higgins is also a writer and poet, contributing to many books that cover diverse aspects of Irish politics, sociology, history, and culture. For 10 years he was a regular columnist for Hot Press magazine, covering the social issues of the day for a young audience. He has published two collections of essays: Causes for Concern—Irish Politics, Culture and Society and Renewing the Republic. He has also published four collections of poetry: The Betrayal, The Season of Fire, An Arid Season, and New and Selected Poems.

Paul O’Neill

O’Neill served as a computer systems analyst from 1961 to 1967 in the U.S. Veterans Administration, and then at the Office of Management and Budget from 1967 to 1977, mastering the complexities of the federal budget. He left the OMB to pursue interests in business, eventually spending 13 years as the chairman and CEO of the aluminum corporation Alcoa, an organization with more than 140,000 employees worldwide. O’Neill is credited with increasing revenues from $1.5 billion to $23 billion while revolutionizing worker safety, transforming Alcoa into one of the safest employers in the world.

Following the 9/11 attacks, as secretary of the treasury, he helped to restore economic confidence by vowing to eliminate the funding source of terrorist attacks. He mobilized resources to fight terrorist financing, working personally and closely with Middle Eastern countries in order to stop money laundering and fraud. O'Neill was a vocal critic of the complexities of the U.S. tax code, which he believed were inhibiting the nation’s personal and corporate prosperity, and he became one of the administration’s leading advocates for reforms.

O’Neill has long been deeply involved in initiatives to improve the quality of our nation’s health care systems. In 1998, he cofounded the nonprofit Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative to drive dramatic quality improvement in health care. Drawing on the data-driven approach to process improvement used by Japanese automakers, the nonprofit’s work resulted in a significant reduction in hospital-acquired infection and became a model for improving patient care and reducing health care costs.

He is a board member of the RAND Corp., the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the National Leadership Commission on Health Care. In the past, O’Neill has visited IU as a National Institute of Public Affairs Fellow, on leave from his government post.

Additional commencement information

Doors for the May 9 graduate commencement ceremony will open at 1 p.m. The procession of graduates will begin at 1:45 p.m.

At the morning undergraduate commencement ceremony May 10, doors will open at 8 a.m., and the procession of graduates will begin at 8:45 a.m. Doors for the afternoon ceremony will open at 1 p.m., and the procession will begin at 1:45 p.m.

There are no tickets and no reserved seats at commencement ceremonies, but those who use wheelchairs and need accessible seating and parking should call the Office of University Ceremonies at 812-855-3762. Individuals with limited mobility who do not use wheelchairs do not need to make prior arrangements for seating and parking.

Complete information about commencement ceremonies on IU campuses is available on the Office of University Ceremonies website.

Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, U.S. District for the Southern District of California, will be the keynote speaker for the May 10 Commencement ceremony for the IU Maurer School of Law.

Related Links

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins

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Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill

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