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Defense Secretary Gates to speak at WSU


Gates (Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)
Gates (Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)

Washington State University officials had a little help persuading the 22nd U.S. secretary of defense to be one of its 2011 commencement speakers.

Robert M. Gates’ wife, Becky Gates, graduated from WSU’s College of Liberal Arts in 1965 with a degree in history. She currently sits on the College of Liberal Arts council, said Darin Watkins, WSU spokesman.

It helped to have a bit of “an inside connection,” Watkins said. “We are so excited. There has been so much talk about budget cuts. … This is good timing” to get peoples’ minds off of bad news.

Gates will speak to graduates from the College of Liberal Arts and the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

Speakers planned for the other two ceremonies are John Scott Redd, a retired Navy vice admiral, and R. James Cook, WSU dean and professor emeritus.

“It’s probably one of the best lineups we’ve had in many years,” said Watkins, recalling that cartoonist Gary Larson spoke in the mid-1980s.

Gates, who was sworn in to his current position in 2006, “is the only defense secretary in history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected president,” said Teri Hanson, a university commencement coordinator.

The Kansas native worked 27 years for the CIA, including nine years at the National Security Council, and rose through the ranks to CIA director. He was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force; chairman of the Independent Trustees of the Fidelity Funds and most recently Texas A&M University’s president.

Redd will be the featured speaker during the afternoon ceremony.

A native of Iowa, Redd commanded eight organizations and served in several senior policy positions in the Pentagon during his 36 years of active duty in the Navy, Hanson said. After retiring from military service in 1998, he became CEO of NetSchools Corp., a high-tech education startup.

Cook, who spent 40 years with WSU, will speak at the morning commencement.

Cook “conducted research on biological and ecological approaches to manage root diseases of Pacific Northwest wheat, 33 of those years with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service,” Hanson said. “In addition to some 200 peer-reviewed journal papers and book chapters, Cook has co-authored two books on biological control of plant pathogens and one on wheat health management.” 

He won the 2011 International Wolf Prize for Agriculture.

Said Watkins: “Cook is probably single-handedly responsible for all that we specialize in at the College of Agriculture.”

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