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Pulitzer Winner Margaret Edson ’83 Will Deliver Commencement Address

Between the time she graduated from Smith in 1983 with a degree in Renaissance history and wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit in 1991, Margaret Edson worked at an assortment of jobs. They were both odd and meaningful, she once noted. “Waitress and bartender,” she recalled, “painter of walls in an Dominican convent in Rome; unit clerk in a hospital; fund-raiser for a community-based AIDS organization; elementary school teacher, now in my 14th year: what but the humanities could prepare me for that?”

Margaret Edson '83

Meanwhile, she received a master’s degree in English literature from Georgetown University in 1992. But it was her stint as a clerk in the cancer and AIDS in-patient unit of a Washington hospital that informed the creation of her first and only play Wit, the story of a professor of 17th-century English poetry who is battling advanced ovarian cancer. The play premiered in 1995 and won several playwriting awards in addition to the 1999 Pulitzer for drama. In 2001, an HBO production of the play won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Made-for-Television Movie.

Edson, now an award-winning playwright and a kindergarten teacher in the Atlanta public school system, will be the speaker at the college’s 130th commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 18.

Today, Edson remains fully dedicated to her career as an elementary education teacher in Atlanta. Of her work teaching children to read, Edson said: “That’s the biggest thing you learn in your whole life...It’s the thing that opens your mind the most, that gives you the most power.” Her own play, Wit, is widely used in high school English courses.

Following her address, Edson and two other accomplished women will receive honorary degrees:

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, has reported on crises from many of the world’s news hot spots, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Somalia, Rwanda and the Balkans. Her assignments have ranged from interviews with world leaders -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and former Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev -- to reporting on the human consequences of natural disasters and wars. Amanpour has won nine Emmy awards.

At the age of 22, as a member of a team that worked under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Beate Sirota Gordon helped author an equal rights clause in Japan’s Constitution. Keeping in mind that the U.S. Constitution had failed to specifically guarantee women’s rights, and drawing on her experience growing up in Japan, Gordon insisted on inserting a clause granting equal rights to Japanese women. Her memoir, The Only Woman in the Room, published in 2001, recounts her work for the government -- work that was also publicized in the 2005 film The Gift from Beate.

Mae C. Jemison, who was to receive an honorary degree, is unable to attend the ceremony.

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