WASHINGTON, May 22, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) described Nov. 12, 2004, as her "alive day" during her George Washington University Commencement address Sunday on the National Mall.
"It was the day I almost died, but didn't," she said. "It was a good day for me." Flying over Iraq, Sen. Duckworth's Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The explosion vaporized one of her legs, she said, and blew off the back of her right arm. The aircraft instrumental panel amputated her other leg.
Yet, her crew refused to leave her behind, she said, and helped to save her life.
"I knew from that moment on I would spend every single day of the rest of my life trying to honor the courage and sacrifice of my buddies who saved me," Sen. Duckworth told an estimated crowd of 25,000, including roughly 6,000 graduates (photos).
The senator shared her personal story as part of her themes of embracing failure, taking advantage of opportunity and maintaining humility.
"Every time I got knocked down, I got back up. I dusted myself off, and I got back in the arena—when my face had literally been marred with dust and sweat and blood. And I am so glad that I did," she said.
Resilience is increasingly important, said Sen. Duckworth, M.A. '92. Especially with today's challenges at home and abroad, the stakes are higher for students embarking on their post-university lives. She encouraged her soon-to-be fellow alumni to "step up."
"You can be our nation's next generation of leaders," she said. "Luckily, as GW grads, you already have a head start on many of your peers. Over and over the students of GW have proven to be some of the most civically engaged students in the nation, showing leadership in and out of the political arena."
And she urged graduates to remember the "good fortune and luck" that enabled them to experience the opportunities and take advantage of the resources at GW.
In addition to Sen. Duckworth, the university conferred honorary degrees on Sunday to Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West and Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron.
"The president has said that he is at war with the media," he said. "We are not at war. We are at work."
Dr. West, the highest-ranking African-American woman in the history of the U.S. Army, said she was "truly honored, humbled and grateful" to receive the honorary degree, citing "the strong foundation that the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences provided in the art of being a compassionate healer."
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SOURCE George Washington University