Bloomberg chosen as commencement speaker

The College announced this year’s commencement speaker and honorary degree recipients for the commencement ceremony, which will be held May 12, 2012.

The commencement speaker will be Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. Three individuals will receive honorary degrees: Dr. Wanda Austin ’75, president and CEO of The Aerospace Corp; Jaron Lanier, who has completed groundbreaking work in the virtual reality field; and Lynn Nottage, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her play, Ruined.

These prestigious individuals were selected by the Ad Hoc Committee on Honorary Degrees, which was chaired by Michael Anderson, assistant professor of psychology. Other members of the committee include Glenn Ross, Dr. Elijah E. Kresge professor of philosophy; Grier Stephenson, Charles A. Dana professor of government; Tia Guinivan, associate director of development information; Deborah Martin ’72, director of special events and assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees; Robyn Piggott, executive assistant to the president; Carra Kramer ’12; Deanna Ross ’12; Nicole Lock ’13; and Kevin Shields ’13.

Choosing the honorary degree recipients was a multi-staged process that involved not only the Honorary Degree Committee, but also Dan Porterfield, president of the College, and the Board of Trustees.

“The first step is to solicit nominees from the F&M community as a whole,” Anderson said.  “We then research each nominee to get some sense of their history, background, and notable achievements; each nominee is given full consideration by the committee. Once we have come to consensus, we report our recommendations to the president, who communicates his choices to faculty council and ultimately to the Board of Trustees. At F&M, as at many schools, all degrees are conferred by the trustees.”In choosing the honorees, the Committee searched especially for individuals who have made a strong impact in their respective field.

“We look for people who have had a definable, transformative impact,” Anderson said. “Although there are no more specific individual traits we look for, we do want a slate of honorees that represent a diversity of achievement from a diversity of circumstance. Ideally, the group of recipients should represent the broad range of what is possible.”

“We wanted degree recipients to fall under categories of either a transformational intellectual leader or a transformational social leader,” Lock added. “We take into account their accomplishments in life and their recognition to the College and its members.”

Jason Klinger, director of publications in the office of college communications, summarized the honorary degree recipients’ endeavors, which can be found at http://www.fandm.edu/commencement.

Bloomberg, who was elected mayor of New York shortly after the September 11 attacks in New York City, has implemented many policies that have increased high school graduation rates by 37 percent and reduced crime in the city by over 30 percent. He has also donated over two billion dollars to a variety of charitable organizations through Bloomberg Philanthropies, which focuses on enhancing education, the arts, the environment, public health, and government innovation around the globe.

“Michael Bloomberg has made a distinctive impact in many areas highly valued within our society—as a business leader, as a driving force behind the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, as the founder of a philanthropic foundation that has a growing impact on education, on health, and in the arts, and as a public servant,” Porterfield said. “The mayor will speak to our graduating seniors about the challenges of tomorrow.”

Since leaving F&M, Austin has become the president and CEO of The Aerospace Corp., an independent company working for the U.S. government to develop scientific plans for national security space programs. In 2009, she was a member of the White House’s U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, and also was declared Black Engineer of the Year. In 2010, she served on the Defense Science Board, and in 2011 she became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Lanier has done extensive work in the field of virtual reality. Between 1997 and 2001, Lanier was the chief scientist at Advanced Network and Services, a nonprofit organization that encourages increased education in technology. From 2006 to 2009, he assisted in developing the Xbox 360’s Kinect device, and he is currently a partner architect at Microsoft Research. In 2010, he wrote an international best-selling book and was also named one of the top 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.

Nottage is a playwright who often tells the stories of African American women. Her play Ruined, which is about women in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the nation’s civil war, won a Pulitzer Prize. She has won many awards, including the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award in 2010, the MacArthur Fellowship in 2007, and the Lucille Lortel Foundation Fellowship in 2007. She currently teaches playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, from which she graduated.

Both Porterfield and the Committee believe everyone one of the honorary degree recipients are worthy individuals to be recognized at the commencement ceremony.

“We believe we have identified an outstanding slate of recipients,” Anderson said. “They bring honor to us at F&M, even as these degrees do honor them.”

“These esteemed individuals have made a major impact in culture, in science, in literature and in technology,” Porterfield said. “It should be an exciting and inspiring commencement.”

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