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U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns to Deliver Harvard Kennedy School Graduation Address

Nicholas Burns, left, moderates an IOP Forum with David Miliband in 2018. Burns will deliver the Harvard Kennedy School's 2024 graduation addresss.
Nicholas Burns, left, moderates an IOP Forum with David Miliband in 2018. Burns will deliver the Harvard Kennedy School's 2024 graduation addresss. By Awnit Singh Marta

Nicholas Burns, the United States ambassador to China, will deliver the Harvard Kennedy School’s 2024 graduation address on May 22, the school announced last Wednesday.

Burns — who served as a professor of diplomacy and international relations at the Kennedy School for 13 years — said in a press release he was “honored” to return.

He added that he looks forward to celebrating the students’ graduation and “their future challenges and accomplishments in the U.S. and around the world.”

From 2005 to 2008, Burns served as the undersecretary of political affairs — the highest-ranking diplomat in the United States Foreign Service — under former President George W. Bush. As the undersecretary, Burns helped lead the negotiation of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement and the United States’ relationship with Iran.

Burns has also served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO, ambassador to Greece, and as chief spokesperson for the State Department under former President Bill Clinton.

At the Kennedy School, Burns founded the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The project aims to promote the study of diplomacy and negotiation, alongside building a “public understanding of diplomacy’s indispensable role in an increasingly complex and globalized world.”

Burns also served as co-chair of the Kennedy School’s programs on the Middle East and South Asia at the Belfer Center.

Through the Future of Diplomacy Project, Burns also helped found the American Secretaries of State Project, a University-wide initiative to chronicle the history of U.S. Secretaries of State and their experiences with negotiation.

He left HKS in Dec. 2021 to begin his role as ambassador.

In the statement released Wednesday, HKS Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf praised Burns’ commitment to the Kennedy School and his instruction for its students.

“Nick Burns offers a wonderful example for our students of principled and effective public service,” Elmendorf wrote in the press release. “At the Kennedy School, Nick’s courses were in high demand as students sought out his deep wisdom and broad experience on international affairs.”

Past graduation speakers for the Kennedy School include former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Moldovan President Maia Sandu, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete P. M. Buttigieg ’04, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi N. Okonjo-Iweala ’77, and former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at william.mao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at dhruv.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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CommencementHarvard Kennedy SchoolUniversityUniversity News