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Alumni SpotlightFormer U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma LXA '90 Lehigh to Deliver 2019 Commencement Address

Former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma ’90, Vice Chair and Partner at The Asia Group and Lehigh trustee, will deliver the address at Lehigh’s 151st spring commencement on Monday, May 20.

Verma, whom Forbes called “one of the most consequential envoys to ever occupy the prestigious post,” is a distinguished and dedicated Lehigh alum who has left his mark on the worlds of business, law, diplomacy, and the military.

“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,” said Verma.  “It is such a privilege to recognize and congratulate these incredible graduates.” 

Said 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.”

A Wide-Ranging and Influential Career

Verma, a leading expert on trade and diplomacy in Asia, was nominated to serve as Ambassador by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate. The first Indian-American to serve as Ambassador to India, he held the position from 2014 to 2017, overseeing one of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions in the world. Verma is credited with deepening U.S.-India ties and advancing bilateral cooperation in defense, trade, and clean energy. Verma 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.

“India and the United States are natural allies,” Verma told the Lehigh Bulletin in 2017. “Between our two countries, we have 1.6 billion people living in democratic systems with open and transparent governments that have checks and balances and believe in the rule of law and in resolving disputes peacefully… A positive ripple effect occurs whenever India and the United States come together. This is good for people everywhere who care about peace, open markets, and prosperity.”

Verma attended Lehigh on an Air Force ROTC scholarship and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1990. After earning a B.S. in industrial engineering with a minor in international relations from Lehigh, he went on to receive a law degree from American University. Verma served on active duty as an Air Force Judge Advocate, and his military decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal. Last year, he was inducted into the Veterans Hall of Fame in Johnstown, Pa., the city where he was raised.

During his time in Washington, Verma has held multiple positions in the legislative and executive branches, including serving as the Senior National Security Advisor to the then Senate Majority Leader from 2002 to 2007 and, earlier in his career, working in the House of Representatives for the Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the late Congressman Jack Murtha. Prior to his appointment as Ambassador, Verma served as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2011.

Verma’s work in the private sector included a partnership in a major global law firm, specializing in national security law, international trade, and public policy. He also served as a member of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism led by former Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent. He is a co-author of the Commissions’ landmark report entitled, “World at Risk.” Today, Verma serves as Vice Chair of The Asia Group, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic and capital advisory firm that guides U.S. and multinational companies operating in Asia.

Verma is also active in the academic and non-profit spheres. He is a 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 Center for American Progress’ U.S.-India Task Force. In addition to being a member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees, Verma serves on a number of boards and commissions, including the National Endowment for Democracy and the T. Rowe Price corporate board.  He 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 he was ranked by India Abroad as one of the 50 most influential Indian Americans.

An Engaged Alumnus

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.

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. As President Simon eloquently stated in the Lehigh Bulletin recently, ‘We encourage risks to be taken, new paths forged, and new ways of thinking pursued.’ That’s exactly the right mindset,” Verma said.