Smith Announces Commencement Speaker and Honorees
Jane Alexander, award-winning actress, producer and writer and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, will be the speaker and an honorary degree recipient at Smith College's 121st commencement on Sunday, May 16.
Four other distinguished women will also receive honorary doctoral degrees. They are human rights advocate Hanan Ashrawi, psychologist and author Carol Gilligan, law professor Lani Guinier and historian Romila Thapar.
A native of Brookline, Mass., Alexander has performed in more than 100 plays on stages across the country and has appeared in 40 movies and television programs, including such acclaimed films as "Testament," "Playing for Time," "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years," "All the President's Men" and "In Love and War." She was named to head the NEA by President Clinton in 1993; in her four-year tenure she convened the first national arts conference and strengthened the Endowment by forging ties with other federal agencies. As chairman, she was a compelling advocate for the efficacy of the arts in improving schools, serving at-risk youth, invigorating local economies and strengthening communities. In addition, Alexander is a frequent spokesperson on issues of wildlife preservation, nuclear proliferation and health care.
Ashrawi, a Palestinian professor and writer and one of the most articulate voices in the Middle East, served as the official spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the years leading up to Yasser Arafat's return to the West Bank, achieving particular prominence during the 1991 peace talks in Madrid. A human rights and women's rights activist, she is the founder and secretary general of Miftah, The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy. She is the author of the memoir "This Side of Peace," of which the New York Review of Books wrote, "One puts down Ashrawi's memoir with admiration for her courage and integrity and astonishment at her achievements."
Gilligan, the Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor of Gender Studies at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, is best known for her 1982 book "In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development," a landmark examination of the ways in which boys and girls develop their moral faculties and world views. Gilligan's subsequent research led to the founding of the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development. She has authored or co-authored five books, including, most recently, "Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship."
The first black woman to join the Harvard Law School faculty, Guinier previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania. As a civil rights lawyer she served for more than 10 years with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and the U.S. Department of Justice. She has devoted major efforts to revitalizing public discourse in America, including a reemphasis on multiracial citizen problem solving. Guinier is the author of "The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy" and, most recently, "Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback Into a New Vision of Social Justice," an account of the issues surrounding her 1993 nomination -- subsequently retracted -- for the position of assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration.
Thapar, a renowned historian of ancient and medieval India and an important participant in the current struggle in India over the interpretation of its past, is professor emeritus of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Concerned with developing historical study in a culture often stereotyped as ahistorical, she has written a number of influential textbooks and scholarly works, including "The Past and Prejudice," "Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations" and the first volume of Penguin's "A History of India." Thapar has held honorary and visiting professorships at numerous institutions, including the University of Chicago, Cornell University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, Oxford University, and the University of Beijing. She is teaching at Smith this spring as William Allan Neilson Professor in the Department of Religion and Biblical Literature.
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 50 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States. Some 700 students will receive degrees at the 1999 ceremonies.
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