Cambridge, MA—U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who served two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and later ran a groundbreaking presidential campaign, will deliver the 2021 graduation address at Harvard Kennedy School, Dean Douglas Elmendorf announced today.

Buttigieg took office as mayor of South Bend in 2012 at the age of 29, leading numerous development and infrastructure projects. His administration’s program of “Smart Streets” redesigned traffic flows, made the city more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and brought more residents into downtown. While mayor he took a leave of absence in 2014 for a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan as a U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officer, assigned to a counterterrorism unit. The next year he won a second four-year mayoral term with over 80 percent of the vote, and pursued an array of housing and transportation initiatives that spurred hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment.

Buttigieg sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination in the 2020 election, and if elected would have been the youngest and first openly gay American president. At first regarded as a long shot, Buttigieg emerged into the top tier among more than 20 candidates. He narrowly won the Iowa caucus, the first victory for an LGBTQ candidate in a state presidential primary ballot. Buttigieg is the youngest Cabinet member in the Biden administration, and the first openly gay person in a U.S. president’s Cabinet. He has said that, as Secretary of Transportation, he is working to ensure safety and make transportation more equitable while fighting climate change and creating jobs. 

“Through his city leadership, military role, political activities, and senior national government position, Pete Buttigieg has set an impressive example for Kennedy School students of courageous and effective public service,” said Elmendorf, the Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy. “He is a principled leader who has shown a commitment to thoughtful policy analysis and active political engagement as well as skill and determination in getting things done.”

Buttigieg earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. At Harvard, Buttigieg was active in the Institute of Politics, based at Harvard Kennedy School, and after graduating he worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Buttigieg was awarded the Fenn Award by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in recognition of his work as mayor.

The graduation address will be delivered as part of a virtual ceremony on May 27 at Harvard Kennedy School. It will be live-streamed on the School’s website at

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