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News Release

Feb. 18, 2009

Pioneering Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin
to Deliver 2009 Commencement Address

Honorary degrees will be awarded to Baldwin, installation artist Jenny Holzer, international journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault and microbiologist Claire Fraser-Liggett.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Tammy Baldwin, a Smith College alumna and the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives from her native Wisconsin, will be the speaker at the college’s 131st commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 17, at the Quadrangle. Prior to an address by the six-term Congresswoman, she and three other accomplished women will receive honorary degrees.

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.

At the age of 37, Baldwin became both the first woman and the first non-incumbent, openly gay person to be elected to represent her state in Congress. She was re-elected to her sixth term in 2008 and currently serves in the 111th Congress.

Assuring universal health care is the issue that inspired Baldwin to pursue political office and the issue that motivates her to continue. In health care, her legislation reauthorizing a program that provides cancer screening for low-income and uninsured women and another to increase benefits for service members who lose their vision were both signed into law in recent years. Further, her legislation to improve the lives of people living with mobility impairment, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, passed in the Senate in 2009 and is expected to pass in the House.

Equally committed to ensuring the nation’s energy independence, Baldwin recently introduced legislation to create a National Greenhouse Gas Registry that will serve as a clearinghouse for accurate, comprehensive and consistent information on emissions nationwide.

In this session of Congress, Baldwin also serves on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and its subcommittees on Health, Energy and Environment and the Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

As an advocate for those in our society whose voices are not heard, Baldwin frequently counsels to ignore “the naysayers, the cynics, and the keepers of the status quo.”

Just last year, Baldwin received the Smith College Medal, given annually to those alumnae who, in the judgment of the trustees, exemplify in their lives and work the true purpose of a liberal arts education.

In addition to Baldwin, the following women will receive honorary degrees from Smith on May 17:

Jenny Holzer, internationally recognized installation artist

Holzer is widely known for her provocative signs and LED displays in public spaces. Originally an abstract artist focusing on painting and printmaking, Holzer began working with text as art after moving to New York City in 1977. The main focus of her work is the use of words and ideas in such varied media as LED signs, plaques, benches, stickers, T-shirts and the Internet. Her work has been integrated into the performances of Canadian contemporary dance troupe Holy Body Tattoo and has been featured in international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale, the Dia Art Foundation and the Guggenheim Museums in New York City and Bilbao. Holzer attended Ohio University, Rhode Island School of Design and the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, print and broadcast journalist

Hunter-Gault’s road to journalism began at the University of Georgia, where she and a classmate made civil rights history as the first African American students in 1961, following two years of efforts by the state to deny them admittance. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Hunter-Gault became a reporter at The New Yorker and later went on to work as an investigative reporter and anchorwoman on the local evening news before joining the New York Times reporting staff. She has also worked for such prestigious news outlets as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, a tenure marked by two Emmys and a Peabody for excellence in broadcast journalism; NPR and CNN. Hunter-Gault recently left her post as CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent, which she had held since 1999, to pursue independent projects.

Claire Fraser-Liggett, microbiologist

Fraser-Liggett, director of the newly created Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has played a leading role in the sequencing and analysis of human, animal, plant and microbial genomes. She previously served as president and director of the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, M.D., where, during her tenure, federal funding tripled to $60 million per year. At TIGR, Fraser-Liggett led research teams that sequenced the genomes of many microbial organisms and helped to initiate the era of comparative genomics. With more than 220 scientific publications to her name, she has been the most frequently cited scientist in the field of microbiology for the past decade. Fraser-Liggett has served on a number of National Research Council committees on counter-bioterrorism, domestic animal genomics, polar biology and metagenomics. She earned her doctorate in pharmacology from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.

For information about disability access or to request accommodations, call (413) 585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter specifically, call (413) 585-2071 (voice or TTY) or e-mail All requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the event.



Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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