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Published May 13, 2011, 02:42 AM

Defense Secretary Gates to Speak at NDSU Commencement

The appearance of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was already attracting a lot of interest, but the recent killing of bin Laden has heightened that even more.

By: Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications

FARGO – A key figure in the hunt for Osama bin Laden will speak at the North Dakota State University graduation Saturday.

The appearance of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was already attracting a lot of interest, but recent events have heightened that even more, said NDSU President Dean Bresciani.

More than 1,100 graduates are expected to participate in Saturday’s ceremony, which is open to the public.

Bresciani expects a large turnout, including people who may not have a connection to NDSU but want to hear Gates.

“This is a person with a lifelong career of highlights, but both his coming to the end of his history-making term as secretary of defense and what’s happened in the world recently really make this a unique opportunity,” Bresciani said.

Gates is speaking at NDSU as a favor to Bresciani.

While Gates was president of Texas A&M University, he hired Bresciani to be vice president for student affairs. Gates was one of Bresciani’s references when Bresciani applied for the NDSU presidency.

NDSU is not paying for Gates’ appearance or for his travel, Bresciani said.

Samantha Hetler, who will graduate with a zoology degree, said she recognizes the significance of having such a notable speaker.

“It will definitely be an honor to graduate this year and be able to listen to him and see what advice he has,” said Hetler, a 21-year-old from Crookston, Minn.

Brian Falbo of Fargo, who will graduate with a pharmacy degree, said he’s heard that more people are participating in commencement because of the speaker.

“It will be interesting to hear from someone like him,” said Falbo, 23.

Gates spoke last Saturday at the graduation for Washington State University. The text of his speech posted on his website shows he didn’t talk much about bin Laden, other than this reference:

“To serve our country you don’t need to deploy to a war zone or Third World country or be buried in a windowless cube in a gothic structure by the Potomac River. You don’t have to be a CIA spy or analyst or Navy SEAL who track down and bring to justice the most notorious terrorist in the world.

“Whatever the job, working in the public sector at some level offers a chance to serve your fellow citizens as well as learn the inner workings of our government and build skills that will stand you in good stead in facing other challenges in your career and in your life.”

Gates’ wife, Rebecca, will be at NDSU today to tour research facilities. Gates will only be in Fargo for graduation.

“I feel fortunate that he’s even managing to squeeze this in,” Bresciani said.