UW Today

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June 4, 2009

Secretary of defense, Yakama tribal elder to receive honorary degrees

The UW will confer honorary degrees on two individuals at Commencement exercises June 13 at Husky Stadium.

Robert M. Gates, who has served as the 22nd United States Secretary of Defense since December 2006, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and will be the Commencement speaker. Virginia Beavert, a Yakama tribal elder who has played a pivotal role in the preservation and documentation of the Sahaptin language, the ancestral language of the native people of central Washington and Oregon, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Gates served as president of Texas A&M University from 2002 to 2006. He was interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from 1999 to 2001. Gates spent nearly 27 years with the intelligence community. He spent nearly nine years at the National Security Council, serving four presidents.

Gates was confirmed as Director of Central Intelligence in 1991, becoming the only career officer in the CIA’s history to rise from entry-level employee to director. He served until 1993.

After retiring from the CIA, Gates lectured at several colleges and universities. In 1996 he published his autobiography, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War. He also has written numerous articles on foreign policy and government.

Beavert’s scholarship extends over the past 30 years. She is almost singlehandedly responsible for preserving a language once spoken by people who inhabited one third of Washington State until 160 years ago. Her work on documentation, development and revitalization of the Sahaptin language is recognized throughout North America and increasingly throughout the world.

Although her work directly benefits the Yakama and other Sahaptin tribes, it also provides a model for other indigenous peoples faced with a vanishing language.

Beavert has taught Sahaptin for more than a quarter century at various colleges and universities in the northwest, including Central Washington University, Yakima Valley Community College, Heritage University and the University of Oregon. She is the author and co-author of numerous scholarly articles on Sahaptin, and this year, the University of Washington Press and Heritage University will jointly publish the first comprehensive dictionary of the Sahaptin language, her life’s work.