Former Senate majority leader Mitchell to speak at Commencement

The College has chosen the Honorable George J. Mitchell to deliver the main address at the 211th commencement on June 4.

Mitchell, former United States Senator from Maine, served as chairman of the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, forging the historic April 1998 peace accord among the governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the political parties of Northern Ireland. The accord was approved by public referendum in May 1998.

Mitchell spent nearly five years involved in the peace process. He mediated the negotiations with “unfailing serenity” and a touch of humor, according to participants in the accord.

Mitchell came to the College last spring to speak about foreign policy issues and his experience in Northern Ireland to assistant professor of political science Marc Lynch’s PSCI 202 class, “World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations.”

Mitchell began his career of public service in 1960 as a trial lawyer in the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. He served as executive assistant to Senator Edmund Muskie from 1962 to 1965. Mitchell was appointed United States attorney for Maine by President Carter in 1977, and became a United States district judge in 1979. He resigned this position in 1980.

Mitchell was appointed to the United States Senate in 1980 to complete the unfinished term of Democratic Senator Muskie, who resigned to become secretary of state.

Elected to a full term in 1982, Mitchell won with 61 percent of the votes cast. He was reelected with 81 percent of the vote in 1988, the largest in Maine history. He was elected the Senate majority leader in January 1989. Mitchell left the Senate in 1995 after 14 years of service.

During his time in the Senate, Mitchell served on the Finance, Veterans Affairs and Environmental and Public Works Committees. He pushed for the passage of the 1990 reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, the nation’s first child care bill, the American with Disabilities Act, a higher education bill that expanded opportunities for millions of Americans, the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). He wrote the first national oil spill prevention and clean-up law. Mitchell was also a member of the Select Committee on the Iran-Contra investigation.

Mitchell was esteemed by members of both parties during his tenure in the Senate. For six consecutive years, a bipartisan group of senior congressmen voted him “the most respected member” of the Senate. It has been said, “there is not a man, woman or child in the Capitol who does not trust George Mitchell.”

After Mitchell retired from the Senate, he was asked by President Clinton to spearhead an initiative on trade and investment in Northern Ireland. Following the completion of the initial economic initiative, the British and Irish governments appointed Mitchell to chair the International Commission on Disarmament in Northern Ireland. This was a precursor to the political negotiations, which began in 1996 and culminated in the 1998 agreement.

Mitchell now acts as a special counsel in the law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand.

He is the author of several books, including Men of Zeal, an account of the Iran-Contra investigation co-authored by Senator Bill Cohen of Maine, World on Fire, which describes and offers steps to curb the threat of the greenhouse effect and North for America Alone: The Triumph of Democracy and The Fall of Communism.

“Wherever you go in life, you’ll be a part of a society — a neighborhood, a community, a state, our great nation,” Mitchell said. “Be active in that society. Do something in and with your life.”

Mitchell received his B.A. from Bowdoin College in 1954 and his LL.B. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1960.

According to Director of Public Affairs Jim Kolesar, each year the president invites the college community to suggest people who “represent distinction in their particular field of endeavor” for honorary degrees. Then, a committee of faculty, students and trustees selects a group of honorary degree recipients from a variety of fields and a main commencement speaker from the list of candidates.

“The committee…chooses someone to speak at the main commencement ceremony who is thought to have particularly interesting ideas and ways of expressing them,” Kolesar said.