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Environmental justice advocate to receive honorary degree at 2018 commencement

One of the country’s leading environmental advocates and a pioneer in advancing environmental justice in urban communities will be recognized by Lawrence University with an honorary degree June 10 at its 169th commencement.

Peggy Shepard
Peggy Shepard

Peggy Shepard, executive director of the New York City-based organization WE ACT For Environmental Justice, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and serve as the principal commencement speaker.

Since its founding in 1988, Shepard has nurtured and guided WE ACT from a grassroots organization of West Harlem volunteers into a professionally-staffed advocacy organization that works to ensure the rights to clean air, water and soil extends to people of all communities.

“I experienced Peggy’s passion for improving public health and her strong commitment to environmental justice for members of the Harlem community through an extended negotiation close to 15 years ago,” said Lawrence President Mark Burstein. “Her strong commitment to important human values and her willingness to negotiate and compromise to achieve her objectives serve as a wonderful example for our graduating class and for all of us in the Lawrence community. I look forward to welcoming her to Appleton this June. “

Shepard has been at the forefront of developing community-academic research partnerships to improve children’s environmental health. Through WE ACT, she has established cooperative partnerships with physicians and scientists at leading medical institutions, law schools, labor unions and diverse environmental, public health and urban constituencies.

A former journalist and a TEDx presenter, Shepard’s efforts to affect environmental protection and environmental health policy locally and nationally have been recognized with numerous honors.

She was the recipient of the Heinz Award for the Environment in 2002 in recognition of her “courageous advocacy and determined leadership in combating environmental injustice in urban America.” Named in honor of former U.S. Senator John Heinz, the Heinz awards celebrate recognize the extraordinary achievements of individuals in the areas of greatest importance to him.

In 2008, she was presented the Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rockefeller Foundation for her activism to build healthier communities by engaging residents in environmental and land-use decision.

The National Audubon Society in 2004 presented Shepard its Rachel Carson Award, which recognizes female environmental leaders and promotes women’s roles in the environmental movement.

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health honored Shepard with its Dean’s Distinguished Service Award in 2004.

“Her strong commitment to important human values and her willingness to negotiate and compromise to achieve her objectives serve as a wonderful example for our graduating class and for all of us in the Lawrence community.
— Lawrence President Mark Burstein

Her passion for environmental health and justice extends beyond WE ACT. Shepard is a former chair of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She has worked with the National Institutes of Health, serving on its National Children’s Study Advisory Committee and its National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council.

A graduate of Howard University, Shepard has contributed her expertise to numerous non-profit boards, including the Environmental Defense Fund, New York League of Conservation Voters and the News Corporation Diversity Council, among others. She’s also served as a member of the New York City Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Board and the New York City Waterfront Management Advisory Board.

Lawrence’s honorary degree will be Shepard’s second. She was previously recognized by Smith College in 2010.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.