WASHINGTON, PA (May 5, 2016) UPDATE: May 23, 2016 ⎯ On May 21, 2016, Washington & Jefferson College’s (W&J) 217th commencement ceremony saw 298 seniors graduate as part of the Class of 2016, and also honored national leaders in civil rights, religion, and science: civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis; Imam Khalid Latif of the Islamic Center at New York University; Dr. Jean Berko Gleason, a pioneer in the field of psycholinguistics; and Chief Scientist for NASA Dr. Ellen Stofan.
“We’ve chosen to honor these four extraordinary leaders because each of them provides an inspiring example for our students to emulate,” said W&J President Dr. Tori Haring-Smith. “We look forward to honoring these individuals for their ability to dream of a better future and help to make those dreams become reality.”
Lewis delivered the keynote address at the Commencement ceremony.
“I tell you, as a graduate, you must hold the house together. Not just your house, but the world’s house,” Lewis told the Class of 2016. “We all live in the same house and we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters … Never give up. Never lose hope. Never get lost in the sea of despair. Dream dreams. Keep the faith. And never hate.”
The College’s Baccalaureate service, held May 20 at Church of the Covenant in Washington, featured Latif as the keynote speaker.
Lewis, a nationally-recognized leader during the Civil Rights Movement, received an honorary Doctor of Laws. On March 7, 1965 he helped lead more than 600 peaceful protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in what later became known as Bloody Sunday. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Barack Obama. He is also the recipient of a John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement, granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. A long-serving public official, Lewis was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986.
An honorary Doctor of Divinity was presented to Latif, executive director and chaplain for the Islamic Center at New York University (NYU). He is co-founder of the Of Many Institute, and was named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre.
Stofan, NASA chief scientist since 2013, received an honorary Doctor of Science. She serves as principal advisor to the NASA Administrator and senior officials on agency science programs, planning and investments. Stofan is a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
Jean Berko Gleason, Ph.D., a professor emerita in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, received an honorary Doctor of Science. She is best known for her breakthrough work on language acquisition in children, and is the inventor of the Wug Test, which uses nonsense words to study children’s understanding of simple language rules.
“As you write the story of your life, remember the motto of the College: ‘Together we thrive’ … You are part of a web of communities and peoples and the choices you make will affect not only your lives but the lives of those around you,” Haring-Smith told the graduates. “Use what you have learned to shape a bright and joyful future for your children and grandchildren … Carry your knowledge, your compassion, your integrity, and your courage into the larger world. Make wise choices for yourselves and for all of us, because we are counting on you. Go forth, and create a self – a joyful self – that you can be proud of. Thank you for being with us for the last four years.”
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.