St. Mary’s University alumna Ariel Vaagen (M.A. ’06), Deputy Director of the Office of International Media Engagement for the U.S. Department of State, will serve as keynote speaker at the 15th annual Fall Commencement Exercises on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.

Vaagen is a Foreign Service Officer who has worked in public affairs and media operations on global issues including Iran nuclear negotiations, Russia and Ukraine diplomacy, the Ebola crisis, and violent extremism. She will speak to graduates about her passion for serving her country to advance understanding, tolerance, respect and shared prosperity at home and abroad.

The University will celebrate the accomplishments of 300 new graduates, including 179 receiving bachelor’s degrees, 117 receiving master’s degrees and four receiving doctoral degrees.

As an undergraduate, Vaagen attended Stanford University, where she was a scholarship gymnast and biology student. Her career path turned to international relations after she spent a summer teaching gymnastics in the West Bank. Upon graduation, she earned the Haas Public Service Fellowship to return to Israel where she mentored and interviewed participants in a peace camp for Israeli and Palestinian youth.

She joined the Army in 2000 and earned her master’s in International Relations from St. Mary’s in 2006, while stationed at Fort Hood. After serving, she joined the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop tactical communications technology for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Her favorite moments as a diplomat include talking with journalists about hot topics, traveling with the Secretary of State to 10 countries in 12 days, issuing a visa to a newly adopted child and telling London schoolchildren about her civil rights heroes, she said.

Commencement exercises will begin at 1:30 p.m. at Bill Greehey Arena, inside the Alumni Athletics & Convocation Center on the St. Mary’s campus. Baccalaureate Mass will be held Friday, Dec. 11, at 5:30 p.m., also at Greehey Arena. Media are welcome at both events. Live streaming video is available for those not able to attend the ceremony.

One student will graduate with a 4.0 GPA; nine will graduate summa cum laude; three will graduate magna cum laude; 18 will graduate cum laude; and 22 will receive distinguished graduate honors. One student has completed the Nelson Wolff Early Admission Program, graduating with a B.A. in English and starting his second year of law school.

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