March 22, 2021

To the HKS Community,

It is my great pleasure to share the news with you that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will deliver the 2021 graduation address for Harvard Kennedy School. The address will be part of our virtual graduation ceremony on May 27, live-streamed on the School’s website for all members of the Kennedy School community as well as family members and guests of graduating students.

Secretary Buttigieg is a principled and effective leader who has set a powerful example of public service. He took office as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, 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.

Secretary 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, he 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. He 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.

Secretary Buttigieg earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. At Harvard, he 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.

I am grateful to the students, staff members, and faculty members on the Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee—and to everyone who nominated a potential speaker—for your work in getting us to this point. There were many good suggestions that we will keep in mind for future years.

Please look out for more information about the logistics of the online graduation ceremony from the Office of Degree Programs and Student Affairs.