WASHINGTON, PA (May 10, 2012)—Kevin Clash, the award-winning puppeteer who brought Elmo to life on Sesame Street will be one of four individuals to receive honorary degrees at Washington & Jefferson College’s (W&J) 213th commencement ceremony May 19.
W&J will honor Clash; Former Governor Christie Todd Whitman, who made history as the first woman to serve as Governor of New Jersey, holding office from 1994 until 2001; Rev. Preston Williams, a renowned theologian and scholar who served as Houghton Professor of Theology and Ethics at Harvard Divinity School for more than three decades; and John Swanson, an engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Swanson, who founded ANSYS, Inc., in 1970, is regarded as a leading authority and pioneer in the application of finite-element methods to engineering. Swanson will deliver the commencement address while Williams will be the keynote speaker at the Baccalaureate Service May 18 at Church of the Covenant on Chestnut Street.
“We are proud to recognize the accomplishments of this year’s group of honorary degree recipients as we celebrate what the Class of 2012 has achieved,” said W&J President Tori Haring-Smith, Ph.D. “This is a special class, one I am confident will continue our long tradition of graduating young men and women who make a difference in our world.”
Clash’s love for puppets started at a young age when his mom taught him how to use a sewing machine. His dedication and hard work paid off when he became an official Sesame Street puppeteer in 1984 and made Elmo the international sensation that he is today. Although Elmo is Clash’s most prominent role, he has had many other roles, including Clifford and Hoots the Owl from Sesame Street, Baby Sinclair from the television show Dinosaurs, and Splinter from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Clash was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary called, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, which chronicles Clash’s early years and his eventual rise to stardom as the voice and puppeteer of Elmo.
Governor Whitman served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the cabinet of President George W. Bush from January of 2001 until June of 2003. In 2003, Whitman led the International Republican Institutes’ international delegation to observe the Cambodian presidential elections. She later co-chaired the Palestinian elections with President Jimmy Carter for the National Democratic Institute. Since leaving the EPA, she has served as President of The Whitman Strategy Group (WSG), a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues. She is also co-chair of the Republican Leadership Council (RLC), which she founded with Senator John Danforth. The RLC’s mission is to support fiscally conservative, socially tolerant candidates and to reclaim the word Republican.
Reverend Williams, who retired in 2002, spent his entire ministry on college and university campuses. Prior to coming to the Harvard Divinity School, Reverend Williams was a professor at Boston University of Theology and chaplain at Brandeis University. He served as chaplain and instructor in religion at three historically black colleges: Knoxville College, North Carolina College at Durham, (North Carolina Central University) and Lincoln University. A widely-published author, he is the editor-at-large for The Christian Century magazine. Reverend Williams has had the opportunity to lecture and teach all over the world including India, Japan, Korea, England, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa.
Prior to founding ANSYS, Swanson was employed at the Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory in the stress analysis group. While there, he realized that companies could save time and money if they used finite-element software code to do the complex calculations that engineers were doing manually. The software is now an industry leader for assisting engineers and designers in optimizing product development processes in the aerospace, automotive, biomedical, manufacturing and electronics industries by simulating how products will function in real life. Swanson was honored with the John Fritz Medal in 2004 from the American Association of Engineering Societies. This medal is often referred to as the highest award in the engineering profession. In February 2009, Swanson was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor bestowed in the field of engineering. Opened in 2010, the John A. Swanson Science Center is the newest building on the W&J campus.