WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma, come May, goes back to his roots in Pennsylvania to deliver the 151st spring commencement address to graduates and families at his alma mater Lehigh University.
Verma, the first, and thus far only Indian-American to be a U.S. envoy to India in the second term of the Obama administration,was raised in Johnstown, Pa., during the time his father K.D. Verma was a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and his late mother, Savitri, was a special needs school teacher, attended public school in the Westmont Hilltop School District and then graduated from Lehigh University with a bachelor of science in industrial engineering. At Lehigh, Verma was in ROTC, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha and his senior class president.
He then went on to earn a law degree (JD) from the American University Washington College of Law and a master’s in law (LLM) from Georgetown University.
Verma, now vice chair and partner at The Asia Group and Lehigh trustee, will deliver Lehigh’s commencement address on May 20.
He said, “What an honor to give the commencement address at Lehigh, a place that gave me my start, launched me into the professional world, and where I formed my closest friendships,” and added, “It is such a privilege to recognize and congratulate these incredible graduates.”
Lehigh president John D. Simon: “We are honored that Rich has agreed to join us and address the graduates and families of the Class of 2019. Given his extensive experience as a leader, both domestically and on the world stage, Rich’s words will certainly provide inspiration to our graduates, who are about to take on the challenge of being leaders in the world beyond our campus.”
Verma told India Abroad, that besides the nostalgia that would permeate the opportunity to deliver the commencement at Lehigh and meet with the students, families and his former college mates, it was a coming “full cycle” for him since "I first gave the commencement address at Lehigh 29 years ago when I was senior class president.”
“It's hard to believe the time has passed so quickly, so much has happened in the world,” he said, “In 1990 we had just emerged victorious in the Cold War, the Internet was in its infancy, and U.S.-India relations were not yet hitting their stride — far from it. We've sure come a long way."
Verma said, "I was able to speak at two college graduation ceremonies in India while serving as Ambassador. The first was at Ashoka University in Delhi, and the second was at my dad's alma mater, DAV College in Jalandhar. It was amazing to meet so many outstanding college grads as they were embarking on new and exciting career paths, especially with India on such a dramatic rise in the world.”
He reminisced, “I also wondered it what it must have been like when my mom and dad graduated from college in Punjab just a few years after partition -- those were definitely uncertain, but also hopeful times."
After graduation from Leligh, Verma was a commissioned second lieutenant in 1990 and thereafter armed with his law degrees, was on active duty as an Air Force Judge Advocate, and wasthe recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal. Last year, he was inducted into the Veterans Hall of Fame in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the city where he was raised, the news report said.
On Capitol Hill, Verma served as Senior National Security Adviser to the then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from 2002 to 2007, and earlier in his career, was a key aide to his home town U.S. Congressman, the late Jack Murtha, who chaired the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Then in the first term of the Obama administration he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2011.
Verma was also a member of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism led by former Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent, and is a co-author of the Commissions’ landmark report entitled, “World at Risk.
Between his State Department of State stint and being tapped by President Obama to be Ambassador to India in 2014, he worked in the private sector with the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson in its D.C. office.
Verma resigned on Jan. 20, 2017 when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President
In addition to being partner at the Asia Group-- a Washington, D.C.-based strategic and capital advisory firm that guides U.S. and multinational companies operating in Asia--he is also Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He also co-chairs the U.S.-India Task Force at the progressive think tank, Center for American Progress, apart from serving on a number of boards and commissions, including the National Endowment for Democracy and the T. Rowe Price corporate board.
Verma is the recipient of the State Department’s Distinguished Service Award, the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship, the Chief Justice John Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award, and in a special magazine published by India Abroad in June 2007 when he was a senior Congressional staffer was ranked as one of the 50 most influential Indian Americans.
During his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to India and ensconced in Roosevelt House in New Delhi, Verma oversaw one of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions in the world, and is credited with deepening U.S.-India ties and advancing bilateral cooperation in defense, trade, and clean energy.
He also facilitated multiple meetings between President Obama and India’s Prime Minister, which led to more than 100 new initiatives and more than 40 government-to-government dialogues. He was also the first U.S. Ambassador to travel to all of India’s 29 states.
According to Lehigh Bulletin, the University’s publication, Verma, “who served as senior class president while at Lehigh, has remained engaged with his alma mater over the years since his own graduation. In addition to being a Lehigh trustee, he has served on the board of directors of the Lehigh University Alumni Association, and previously served as a Young Alumni Trustee.”
It recalled that “in his 2016 delivery of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Spencer C. Schantz Distinguished Lecture, which is sponsored by the department of industrial and systems engineering, Verma emphasized his appreciation for his Lehigh experience.
“I love coming back here,” he said. “I owe this institution a lot. I knew next to nothing when I arrived here in August 1986 and somehow this place helped set me on the right track. For someone from very modest means, going to school here was an awfully enriching and rewarding experience.”
The lecture, titled “Technology, Innovation and American Diplomacy in the 21st Century,” included discussion of the role of institutions like Lehigh in preparing for the future.
“Our educational institutions must not only equip young people with the right skills, but create environments that foster innovation and entrepreneurship. In this endeavor, Lehigh is an exceptional leader. The Lehigh Silicon Valley immersion program and Lee Iacocca Global Village for Future Leaders network are fantastic examples.”
And, quoting the University’s president Simon, Verma said at Lehigh, “We encourage risks to be taken, new paths forged, and new ways of thinking pursued.’ That’s exactly the right mindset.”