Ruth J. Simmons, the ninth president of Smith College, the 18th president of Brown University and the first African American woman to head an Ivy League institution, was the speaker at Smith’s 136th commencement, Sunday, May 18, 2014.
When Simmons became Smith’s president in 1995, she galvanized the campus through an ambitious campus-wide self-study process that resulted in a number of landmark initiatives, including Praxis, a program that allows every Smith student the opportunity to elect an internship funded by the college; an engineering program, the first at a women’s college; programs in the humanities that include the establishment of a poetry center and a peer-reviewed journal devoted to publishing scholarly works by and about women of color; and curricular innovations that include intensive seminars for first-year students and programs to develop students’ speaking and writing skills.
In addition to Simmons, Smith awarded honorary degrees to four distinguished guests: Ela Bhatt; Eric Carle; Swanee Hunt; and Evelyn Fox Keller.
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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. In 2012, the website won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for a 10-part series about wounded veterans, “Beyond the Battlefield.”
Huffington and three other accomplished women—activist Loretta J. Ross, composer Joan Tower and Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security—received honorary degrees prior to the address.
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Emmy and Golden Globe–winning actress Jane Lynch was the speaker at Smith College’s 134th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20.
Lynch is currently best known for her role as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester in the Fox musical-comedy series “Glee.” A veteran of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company and the Second City comedy troupe, Lynch earned a Master of Fine Arts in acting from Cornell University. She has wooed audiences by playing memorable roles in such notable comedies as Best in Show, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Role Models. Her memoir Happy Accidents, published in 2011, recounts the growth of her career from the stage to television and movies.
In addition to Lynch, four additional accomplished women received honorary degrees. They are: Edwidge Danticat, Haitian novelist whose narratives speak about a nation’s plight; Muriel Siebert, pioneering financier; Susan Solomon, atmospheric scientist who identified the cause of the ozone hole; and Brinda Somaya, Smith alumna and premier architect who shapes the landscape of her nation of India.
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Sylvia Earle, the undersea explorer dubbed a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, was the speaker at Smith College’s 133rd commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 15, 2011.
Today, Earle is the Explorer in Residence at National Geographic Society. She has led more than 70 expeditions, logging more than 6,500 hours under water. Her journeys include commanding the first team of women aquanauts on a 1970 research expedition in which they lived for two weeks in a small structure on the ocean floor off the Virgin Islands.
In addition to Earle, the following women received honorary degrees from Smith on May 15: Margaret H. Marshall, former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; Shiranee Tilakawardane, Supreme Court justice in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; and Carrie Mae Weems, photographer and artist.
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Rachel Maddow, a political commentator who rose to national prominence after launching her career on local radio, was the speaker at Smith College’s 132nd commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 16, 2010.
On her national television program, Maddow daily analyzes top headlines from the worlds of politics, current events, sports, science, health, crime and the absurd. Her critically acclaimed program, The Rachel Maddow Show, airs on MSNBC. Her interviews with newsmakers have been described as spotlighting “the headlines, and the politics behind the headlines.”
In addition to Maddow, the following women received honorary degrees from Smith on May 16: Martha Myers, renowned dance composer and teacher; Victoria “Tori” Murden McClure ’85, a woman of “firsts”; Peggy M. Shepard, co-founder and executive director of We Act for Environmental Justice; and Princess Basma Bint Talal of Jordan, global advocate for women and children.
Tammy Baldwin, a Smith College alumna and the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives from her native Wisconsin, was the speaker at the college’s 131st commencement ceremony Sunday, May 17, 2009.
Baldwin graduated from Smith in 1984 with a degree in government and mathematics and in 1989, while serving in her first elected office as a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, earned her law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
In addition to Baldwin, the following women received honorary degrees from Smith on May 17: Jenny Holzer, internationally recognized installation artist; Charlayne Hunter-Gault, print and broadcast journalist; and Claire Fraser-Liggett, microbiologist.
Award-winning playwright Margaret Edson, a Smith College alumna who teaches kindergarten in the Atlanta public school system, was the speaker at the college’s 130th commencement ceremony Sunday, May 18, 2008.
Edson graduated from Smith in 1983 with a degree in Renaissance history and afterward pursued a series of odd jobs, including bartending at a rural bar in Iowa, painting the interior of a Dominican convent in Rome and clerking in the cancer and AIDS inpatient unit at a hospital in Washington, D.C. While working at a bicycle shop in 1991, Edson wrote the play Wit, the story of a scholar of 17th-century English poetry who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
In addition to Edson, Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, and Beate Sirota Gordon, women’s rights advocate, received honorary degrees from Smith.
Editor, journalist and political activist Gloria Steinem, a tireless promoter of equality for women around the world, was the speaker at Smith College’s 129th commencement ceremony, Sunday, May 20, 2007.
Steinem’s lifelong career as a writer and journalist began when she graduated from Smith in 1956. Her early freelance articles include an investigative piece for Show magazine on the working conditions of Playboy bunnies. By the 1960s, Steinem had gained national attention as the outspoken leader of the women’s movement. In 1971, she co-founded Ms. magazine, which became an influential forum for feminist issues. Around that time, Steinem and several other leading feminists -- including Betty Friedan, Smith Class of 1942 -- also founded the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Steinem received an honorary degree from Smith in 1988 and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1993. She has twice before delivered the commencement address at Smith, in 1971 and 1995. During the latter address, Steinem noted, “Trusting our own experience...may be the single most revolutionary thing we can do.”
Following Steinem’s address, four other accomplished women received honorary degrees: Dr. Helene Gayle, pediatrician, director of health initiatives; Ruth Holmberg, journalist, Smith Class of 1943; Nancy Hopkins, geneticist; and Lauren Lazin, award-winning filmmaker, Smith Class of 1982.
U.S. Representative Jane Lakes Harman, a leading Congressional expert on terrorism and security issues, was the speaker at Smith College’s 128th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 21, 2006.
First elected to Congress in 1992, Harman is currently serving her fifth term as representative of the Southern California district that is home to the country’s leading defense contractors. An attorney and an elected official, Harman is a fierce advocate of fiscal responsibility and of opportunity for working families.
Harman’s involvement in the nation’s intelligence issues began before September 11, 2001, when she served on the National Commission on Terrorism. Following the terrorist attacks, she co-wrote a House report examining intelligence failures leading to that tragedy and served on the Committee on Homeland Security. A member of the Smith Class of 1966, previously received an honorary degree from Smith.
Following Harman’s address, four accomplished women received honorary degrees: Jewel Plummer Cobb, scientist, educator and administrator; Paula Deitz, New York literary magazine editor; Ruth Ozeki Lounsbury, filmmaker and author; and Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist.
Links to Commencement addresses are given if the speaker has granted permission for Smith College to publish the text of their speech.