FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESIDENT OF AN IVY LEAGUE INSTITUTION, RUTH J. SIMMONS,
TO KEYNOTE GW’S COMMENCEMENT ON THE ELLIPSE MAY 19
President of Brown University Leads List of GW Honorary Degree Recipients, Including NFL All-Pro Defensive Back Darrell Green, Former NTSB Chair Jim Hall, Historian and Author Lois Green Schwoerer, and Chairman and CEO of AT&T Wireless John D. Zeglis
Washington, D.C. -- Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons, daughter of Texas sharecroppers and the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, who rose to become the first African-American to lead an Ivy League institution, will deliver the keynote address to more than 4,200 graduates of the Class of 2002 at The George Washington University’s Commencement on the Ellipse, Sunday, May 19, at 10 a.m. Over 20,000 people are expected to attend this year’s ceremony on the Ellipse, the historic park located between the White House and the Washington Monument.
Also receiving honorary degrees will be Darrell Green, the Washington Redskins’ seven-time All Pro defensive back and two-time Super Bowl champion; Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board; Lois Green Schwoerer, award-winning author and scholar of Early Modern England; and John D. Zeglis, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Wireless Services.
“In this year of global tragedy and turmoil, we could choose to talk of war and terrorism. Instead, we choose to discuss the eternal values of education, equality, compassion, understanding, and perseverance for the cause of right,” said GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. “Ruth J. Simmons’ life has been devoted to these quests. She has succeeded in furthering each of these goals and has emerged as a pathfinder and leader in our society.”
Ruth J. Simmons has had a life of many firsts. She made history in 1995 upon being named president of prestigious Smith College, becoming the first black woman to head a top-ranked American College or University. While at Smith, Simmons established the first engineering degree program at a women’s college. In July 2001, Simmons was unanimously elected the 18th president of Brown University and became the first African American to lead an Ivy League institution. As someone who has described ‘education’ as a richer gift than any material goods, Simmons has worked tirelessly toward opening the doors of higher education -- particularly in elite private institutions -- to disadvantaged minorities, a mission she has described as “a matter of national salvation.”
President Simmons is no stranger to The George Washington University. During the 1968-69 GW academic year, she was an instructor in French while enrolled at GW as a graduate student.
Simmons earned her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude at Dillard University in New Orleans (1967) and her master’s and doctorate in Romance languages and literatures at Harvard University (in 1970 and 1973, respectively). She began her academic career at the University of New Orleans as an assistant professor of French and later served as assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts. She moved to California State University in Northridge in 1977 as visiting associate professor of pan-African studies and acting director of international programs. From 1979 to 1983, she was assistant and later associate dean of graduate studies at the University of Southern California. In 1983, she returned to the East Coast, settling at Princeton University, where she directed Afro-American studies and rose to become associate dean of the faculty. After two years as provost at Spelman College in Atlanta, Simmons returned to Princeton as vice provost, a position she held until her move to Smith in 1995. During her tenure directing the Afro-American Studies program at Princeton, Simmons added writer Toni Morrison to her faculty. She later wrote a report that became a national model for improving race relations on campus.
The GW Commencement on the Ellipse is one of several events for graduates the weekend of May 17-19. This year, for the first time, the University has secured the MCI Center as an alternative site location for Commencement. In the event that circumstances dictate a change of venue on May 19, the GW Commencement will take place at the MCI Center at 12 noon.
Located four blocks from the White House, The George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the nation’s capital. The University offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study as well as degree programs in medicine, law, engineering, education, business/public management, and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of 20,000 undergraduates, graduate, and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 120 countries.
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©2002 The George Washington University Office of University Relations, Washington, D.C.