About Commencement 2013
Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Pulitzer Prize-winning online news website that bears her name, was the speaker at Smith College’s 135th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19, 2013.
Huffington is most commonly associated with the news website that she launched in May 2005, redefining web journalism with aggregated content and blogs. The Huffington Post quickly became one of the most widely read, linked to, and frequently cited media brands on the Internet. And, in 2012, the website won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for a 10-part series about wounded veterans, “Beyond the Battlefield.” In February of 2011, AOL purchased the Huffington Post and named Huffington president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group.
In addition to the website, Huffington is also a frequent guest on talk and news shows, a nationally syndicated columnist, and author of 13 books. She was named in Forbes’ first list of the Most Influential Women in Media and twice named to the Time 100, Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Originally from Greece, Huffington moved to England when she was 16 and graduated from Cambridge University with a master’s in economics. At 21, she became president of the famed debating society, the Cambridge Union.
She serves on several boards of organizations that promote community solutions to social problems, including A Place Called Home, which works with at-risk children in South Central Los Angeles. She also serves on the board of El País, the highest-circulation daily newspaper in Spain, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Huffington and three other accomplished women received honorary degrees prior to the address. They are Loretta J. Ross, Joan Tower and Melanne Verveer.
Loretta J. Ross, activist
Ross is an international leader in activism surrounding racial and economic justice and women’s issues. She most recently served as activist-in-residence at Smith for the month of February. Ross was the co-director of the 2004 National March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., the largest protest in U.S. history. She founded both the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective and the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE), a training and resource center for grassroots activists on using human rights education to address social injustices in this country. She is also the co-author of Undivided Right: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice. Ross was one of the first African American women to direct the first rape crisis center in the world in 1979.
Joan Tower, composer
Tower is widely regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. During a career spanning more than 50 years, she has been a composer, performer, conductor and educator. Her works have been commissioned by major ensembles, soloists and orchestras, including the Emerson, Tokyo and Muir quartets; soloists Evelyn Glennie, Carol Wincenc, David Shifrin and John Browning; and the orchestras of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., among others. Tower was the first composer chosen for a Ford Motor Company “Made in America” consortium commission of 65 orchestras. Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony recorded Made in America in 2008 and the album collected three Grammy awards: Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance. In 1990 she became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for “Silver Ladders,” a piece she wrote for the St. Louis Symphony where she was composer-in-residence from 1985–88.
Melanne Verveer, first U.S. ambassador-at-large for women’s issues
When President Barack Obama appointed Verveer as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues in 2009, she was the first person to hold that post. Earlier this year, Verveer left the Department of State to run Georgetown University’s new Institute on Women, Peace and Security. In her capacity as ambassador-at-large, Verveer had coordinated foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women around the world. During that time, Verveer visited some 60 countries, including Afghanistan and the Republic of the Congo. She also founded and chaired Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit that invests in emerging women leaders and works to expand women’s roles in generating economic opportunity, promoting political participation and safeguarding human rights. Prior to her work with Vital Voices, Verveer served as assistant to the president and chief of staff to the First Lady in the Clinton Administration.