- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2007

George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management celebrated its 20th anniversary yesterday with graduation ceremonies for 79 students, who will face challenges unlike those of previous classes.

“I think it’s about training the next generation of politicians or people who are going to work in politics and infusing them with a sense of professional responsibility and ethics,” said Christopher Arterton, the school’s dean.

Lawmakers and others say some of the biggest challenges for students entering politics will be helping people to continue to trust the U.S. government and bringing democracy to the rest of the world.

Keynote speaker Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, encouraged the graduates at the campus ceremony inside the Dorothy Betts Theater to avoid the “toxic” side of politics and to chose their country over strict partisan beliefs.

“Both sides continue to pound each other … with little good coming to the country,” he said. “I ask you to build on your experience here” and work on “changing tomorrow’s politics.”

Mr. Webb said such efforts could help to bring more accountability to federal government and advance such important issues as economic fairness, reorganizing the country’s national defense to deal with international terrorism and improving the country’s reputation around the world.

Karl Rove, President Bush’s top adviser, addressed the graduating class last year.

Matthew Keelen, a Capitol Hill lobbyist and president of the firm Valis & Keelen LLC, received the school’s alumni award.

“One at a time, we can change the environment that people like us have created,” he said.

Margarita “Margie” Astorga Almanza was selected as the student speaker, in part because of her classmates’ aggressive online campaign for her — a sign of the changing times in which such campaigns and blogs influence politics and public opinion.

Miss Almanza said citizens across the country “are not just numbers” and that students in the program “came to D.C. to serve them.”

The program was founded in Manhattan in 1987 by Neil Fabricant, a New York City lawyer and former legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. The school opened a degree program in the District in 1991 on George Washington University’s campus. Four years later, the university acquired the program and made it a component of its Columbian School of Arts and Sciences. In 2006, the school joined the university’s College of Professional Studies.

Before the ceremony, Mr. Arterton said the school emphasizes creating a healthy bipartisan environment in which liberal and conservative students learn that the “reality of politics” is different than the “ideal vision of politics.”