Leon Panetta, Former Secretary of Defense, CIA Director, Announced as Saint Mary's 2014 Undergraduate Commencement Speaker
Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency for President Barack Obama will address graduating seniors at the 2014 undergraduate commencement ceremony at Saint Mary's College of California. More than 730 students —the largest graduating class in Saint Mary’s history— are expected to receive their diplomas on Saturday, May 24, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. in the SMC Stadium.
A military veteran, attorney, civil rights advocate, respected legislator, budget expert and advisor to two presidents, Panetta’s stellar public service career spans over 50 years and reflects a lifetime commitment to the highest ideals of the nation. As CIA director, he ran the operation responsible for bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and as Defense Secretary he led strategic efforts to end two wars and oversaw the end of the 18-year-old policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"Leon Panetta is an extraordinary public servant and a true American statesman," said Saint Mary’s President James Donahue. "Throughout his career he has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the common good, and his leadership in our nation's capital helped ensured the safety of the country and our military men and women. His high regard for public service is inspiring and we are honored he will address this year's graduating class at Saint Mary's."
Currently the chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, based at California State University, Monterey Bay, Panetta returned to the Institute in February 2013 after serving as the nation's 23rd Secretary of Defense.
"Saint Mary's is a remarkable academic institution with a commitment to educating students dedicated to improving the lives of others in our society. That educational approach is extremely important in this day and time," said Panetta. "I look forward to addressing the College's class of 2014 about the opportunities and challenges that await them as they begin their journey into a global world."
Panetta also served in the administration of President Bill Clinton, when in 1993 he left Congress to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget for the incoming commander and chief. He was instrumental in developing policies that led to a balanced federal budget and eventual budget surpluses. A year later, he was appointed as the president’s chief of staff, bringing order and focus to White House operations and policymaking.
A Monterey native, Panetta began his long and distinguished public service career in 1964 as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and upon discharge went to work in Washington D.C. as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senate Minority Whip Tom Kuchel of California. In 1969, he was appointed director of the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, where he was responsible for enforcing equal education laws, and later he served as executive assistant to the mayor of New York City.
After running a successful Monterey law practice, Panetta was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976. He served his Central Coast district in Congress for 16 years and was a key participant in agriculture, healthcare, marine and federal budget issues. From 1989 to 1993, he chaired the House Budget Committee and authored a wide range of legislation, including the Hunger Prevention Act of 1988, Medicare and Medicaid coverage for hospice care for the terminally ill, and numerous measures to protect the California coast, including creation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Leon, and his wife Sylvia, established the Panetta Institute for Public Policy in 1997after leaving the Clinton administration. The Institute is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit center that promotes public service and prepares individuals for the policy challenges of the future through a variety of academic and professional program opportunities in government, politics and public policy.
Panetta received his undergraduate degree in political science in 1960 from Santa Clara University. Three years later he earned his Juris Doctor degree, also from Santa Clara. He has served on numerous boards and commissions, including California Forward, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Council on Base Support and Retention. In 2006, he served on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan national commission seeking a new course for the war in Iraq.