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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

Here’s what to know about Fiona Hill, 2024 Commencement speaker

Hill, currently chancellor of Durham University, served as adviser to three U.S. presidents.

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Fiona Hill will speak in front of the graduating Class of 2024.

Fiona Hill, a former adviser to three U.S. presidents and the current chancellor of Durham University, will deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2024. University President Sunil Kumar announced Hill as the speaker on March 27.

Hill served as an adviser to presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. In 2022, she was appointed chancellor of Durham University in the United Kingdom, a position she still currently holds.

“We’re honored to have Fiona Hill as this year’s commencement speaker. Her long and distinguished record of public service is in keeping with Tufts’ mission of civic engagement, and her personal story of the transformative power of higher education resonates with the Tufts community,” Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, wrote in an email to the Daily.

In addition to working as a presidential adviser, Hill was the senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council between 2017–19. She received a master’s in Soviet studies and a Ph.D in history at Harvard University and holds a master’s in modern history and Russian from St. Andrews University in Scotland. 

Hill made national headlines in 2019 when she served as a key witness during Trump’s first impeachment hearing. In her testimony to a U.S. House of Representatives panel, Hill suggested that Trump had ulterior motives in urging Ukraine to investigate President Joe Biden and rejected the “fictional narrative” that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

Rachel Applebaum, associate professor in the Department of History at Tufts, hopes Hill will address the war in Ukraine during her speech.

“I would be curious to hear her assessment of the war in Ukraine, which many commentators now see as having settled into essentially a stalemate, albeit a very deadly one,” Applebaum wrote in an email to the Daily. “Ukrainian civilians are paying a high price. I also hope she will draw students’ attention to the dangers of authoritarian and ultranationalist politics abroad and at home.”

Hill previously visited the Hill in February 2022, speaking on the war in Ukraine as part of a Fletcher School event. She is the author of the books “The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold” and “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” as well as a memoir titled “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century.

Each year, the commencement speaker is selected by the Honorary Degree Committee, a subsection of the Board of Trustees. This committee, which Kumar sits on, submits recommendations for commencement speakers to be approved by the full board.

“The university considers nominees for commencement speaker and other honorary degree recipients who, at the time of their nomination, have a record of distinguished and sustained accomplishment in the varied academic, scholarly and professional fields represented at Tufts,” Collins wrote.

The 2024 Commencement ceremony will take place on May 19 at 9 a.m. on the Academic Quad.