A husband smiles at his wife on stage after they both participated and were honored in Georgetown's spring faculty convocation.
Category: Discovery & Impact, University News

Title: At Faculty Convocation, a Husband and Wife Celebrate Milestones Together

On March 20, Michael Macovski watched his wife deliver the keynote at Georgetown’s spring faculty convocation. A wide smile crossed his face.

Over the years, he’s watched Deborah Tannen, a Distinguished University Professor and a New York Times bestselling author, speak at countless events, from conferences to The Colbert Report and The Oprah Winfrey Show. This time was no different.

“People often tell Deborah that I was beaming at her the whole time when I was in the audience watching her speak,” he said. “They’re right. I love watching her on stage.” 

But this time, Macovski was in the limelight, too. A professor in the Communication, Culture, and Technology program, he was honored alongside 34 other faculty members as a recipient of the Vicennial Medal, the university’s way of recognizing two decades of service at Georgetown (the full list is below). 

Tannen said, “I was thrilled when I realized that Michael was going to be in the Vicennial group. It meant we would get to be on stage together.”

In addition to the Vicennial awardees, Georgetown honored four recipients of the President’s Awards for Distinguished Scholar-Teachers, which recognizes faculty members who exhibit excellence in scholarship and teaching. 

This year’s awardees, who were nominated by their peers, are Reena Aggarwal, the Robert E. McDonough Professor of Finance and director of the Georgetown Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy; Sarah Stewart Johnson, a professor in the Department of Biology and the Science, Technology and International Affairs Program; Kathleen Anne Maguire-Zeiss, a professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience; and Adam Rothman, a professor in the Department of History and director of the Georgetown Center for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies.  

“We’re grateful to each of you for your many contributions to our university community — to our understanding of global business, the presence of life beyond our planet, neurodegenerative diseases, and the history of slavery and its legacies,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “Thank you for demonstrating the extraordinary possibilities that come when we bring together teaching and research.”

A photo of the stage in Gaston Hall from the audience.

A Life of Learning

After the awards presentation, Tannen began her “Life of Learning” address. In it, she reflected on how key decisions that led her to Georgetown were driven by a desire to learn.

“When I graduated from college, I had no interest in grad school,” she said. “I went off to Europe on a one-way ticket with no plans to return. I wanted to live in other countries, to learn their cultures, and especially their languages. I did eventually come back and got a master’s degree, but I had no interest in a PhD. Several years later, I began a doctoral program in linguistics at 29, yet I had no career ambitions. I just wanted to be a student again.”

Deborah Tannen, a Distinguished University Professor, wears academic robes while standing with her hands clasped behind a podium.
Tannen delivers the keynote during Georgetown’s spring faculty convocation. Photo by Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

In the years since, Tannen has published 26 books, including You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, which spent nearly four years on the New York Times best seller list, including eight months as No. 1. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and holds five honorary doctorates. In her research and teaching, she examines the language of daily life, including cross-cultural communication, doctor-patient communication, gender and language, and social media discourse. 

Tannen joined Georgetown’s linguistics department in 1979 as a faculty member in its unique program in sociolinguistics, a subfield of linguistics that was expanding at the time, and one that Georgetown is known for. 

“I don’t think I could have accomplished what I did had I been anywhere else,” she said. “I owe Georgetown so much.”

Tannen teaches graduate seminars on whatever topic she is writing about, she says — and can’t imagine having written her books had she not done so. She is now writing her 27th book, on the role that apologies play in people’s lives. 

“When I teach undergrads,” Tannen said, “I love seeing their excitement when they apply the ideas of the course to their own lives. It reminds me why this work matters, and inspires me to keep teaching.”

Deborah Tannen, a Distinguished University Professor, wears academic robes while standing with her hands clasped to her heart behind a podium.
Photo by Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

“As a child, when I made a wish over birthday candles, I would always wish for world peace. … Linguistics and Georgetown have allowed me to contribute to a different kind of peace. Peace between people, whose mutual frustration and mutual blame and cultural stereotyping can be traced to different ways of speaking.”

Deborah Tannen in her “Life of Learning” address
Georgetown's president (left) stands with a professor accepting an award onstage of an event venue at Georgetown.
Macovski accepts the Vicennial Medal from Georgetown’s president, John J. DeGioia. Photo by Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

During the Vicennial, Macovski walked across the stage to receive his medal. He smiled at his wife onstage. In reflecting on the past 20 years, he feels grateful. Grateful for his students, grateful for the community, grateful to work at the same university as his wife.

“It’s been a gift in our life,” he said. “Georgetown fosters a sense of belonging. And I think Deborah feels the same way.”

Macovski first came to Georgetown for a linguistics institute that Tannen organized and directed in 1985, which also marked the first time they met. She was busy overseeing hundreds of institute participants and couldn’t step out during a break, he recalls, so he asked if she wanted him to bring her a donut.

“It was a good investment, that donut,” he said.

Macovski had previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Fordham University, and Dartmouth; his background was in literary criticism and textual studies. Since coming to Georgetown, he has expanded his research and teaching into the field of cross-cultural studies, particularly as his students’ demographics grew more international. He also founded the Global Media Group, a Georgetown organization that explores international studies, cultures, and relations. He has published the book, Dialogue and Literature: Apostrophe, Auditors, and the Collapse of Romantic Discourse – as well as Dialogue and Critical Discourse: Language, Culture, Critical Theory.

With their interests overlapping, Macovski and Tannen often bounce ideas off each other and swap recommendations about readings and authors. They’ve kept close ties with their students and host students at their home. One of Macovski’s students recently was hired in a tenure-track job at Indiana University.

“I felt almost parental,” he said of learning the news. “When I heard that, I really choked up; it was very emotional. Talk about pride.”

Celebrating this 20-year honor, at the place of so many meaningful personal and professional moments in his life, prompts him to look back. He says he is particularly grateful for his faculty colleagues — as well as for the “incredibly inspiring” exchanges with his students.

“It’s a moving moment,” he said. “For me, Georgetown offers a certain openness, a certain sense of community — even of family. … I feel that it’s a privilege to be part of that.”

A husband and wife smile at each other on stage. The husband wears a suit and a medal and the wife wears an academic robe and a medal.
Photo by Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

Georgetown’s Vicennial Awardees

A group photo of faculty members who've served for 20 years at Georgetown.

Gold Medalists

Awarded to faculty members who have served for 20 years:


Peter Armbruster

Maria Avantaggiati

Amrita Cheema

Fung-Lung Chung

Anthony DelDonna

Eugene Dionne

Nada Eissa

Adriane Fugh-Berman

Garance Genicot

Victoria Girard

John Hasnas

Bruce Hoffman

Lise Howard

Marc Howard

Toshiko Ichiye

Xiong Jiang

Christine Kim

Michael Macovski

Anna Maria Mayda

Kathleen McNamara

John Mikhail

Charbel Moussa

Evan Reed

Max Riesenhuber

Rabindra Roy

Farima Sadigh Mostowfi

Silver Medalists

Awarded to part-time faculty members who have served for 20 years:


Coleman Bird

Timothy Brightbill

Helen Brown

John Facciola

Hong Kim

Jonathan Missner

Kenneth Pollack

Hector Schamis

Andres Vinelli