Tag: commencement speaker

Lee Chemel: Commencement speaker on her spark for the arts, early struggles and working with TV’s biggest stars

Lee Chemel

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65 has been doing a fair bit of soul searching.

Since graduating from Lawrence University 54 years ago, Chemel has forged an impressive career as a director, first in theater and then in television — a 10-year stint as a conservatory director at South Coast Repertory in Orange County, California, eventually led to a more than three-decade run working behind the scenes on some of the most iconic shows in TV history.

Now she returns to Lawrence as the 2019 Commencement speaker on Sunday, June 9, ready to impart insight and wisdom drawn from a professional career that she says has everything to do with the liberal arts education she received at Milwaukee-Downer College and then Lawrence.

“It’s forced me to investigate my entire life,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been a fascinating experience.”

She’ll be joined at the Lawrence Commencement ceremony by her husband, David, and her daughter, Lizzy. Her son, Tucker, won’t be able to make it.

Details on 2019 Commencement, related events

19 things to know about Lawrence’s 2019 Commencement

Without stealing from her Commencement speech —no spoiler alerts here — we chatted with Chemel, an English major as an undergraduate, about her journey, her deep affection for Lawrence and why she has a special fondness for Michael J. Fox, Lauren Graham and Jason Bateman.

On how Milwaukee-Downer and Lawrence — she was part of the first Downer class to merge with Lawrence, spending her first three years in Milwaukee and her senior year in Appleton — lit a fire in her for the arts and planted the seed that a career in the arts might be possible: 

“My path to theater happened because of Lawrence. And that’s kind of significant. I never thought I would ever enter the arts of any kind as a way to live. Being a woman who was brought up in the ’40s and then the ’50s, I didn’t even foresee that possibility for myself. 

“I grew up in very modest circumstances, five people in a one-bedroom apartment when I was young. I didn’t have big dreams of anything except going to college. That was a big deal to me. I loved my teachers, so I thought I really want to teach. I never had the dream of doing anything in the arts. It didn’t seem like it would be practical enough. It just never occurred to me that that would be something I would do.”

On seeing her first theater production at Lawrence, a staging of Macbeth directed by David Mayer III:

“I was just blown away by it. I had done some theater. I wasn’t one of those kids who did musicals and stuff in high school, but at Downer I had done theater. And I was just blown away by this production.”

On her early mentors in theater at Lawrence, Mayer and Ted Cloak:

“When I got to Lawrence, I decided I would take an acting class from Ted Cloak, who was probably one of the best acting teachers I have ever had, even including the three years I spent with Duncan Ross (in a professional acting program in Seattle) and all these other fabulous people. But Ted Cloak was a wonderful acting teacher, and he loved theater and understood it, and the productions they did, they were just phenomenal.

“I really believe that because of David Mayer and Ted Cloak, I found that theater was more than I thought it was. I really loved it although I still didn’t buy the idea of it as a career at that point. But I became much closer to that idea. Lawrence opened my eyes completely to the richness of the arts, particularly the theater and the film arts. It was remarkable what an influence it had on me.”

On making the transition from Milwaukee-Downer to Lawrence:

“I was only at Lawrence for one year. But it was a year that was packed with amazing things for me. Downer was a very good school in that the professors there were kind of radical. … They were sharp people. They radicalized me politically. Got me involved in the Civil Rights movement. Linus Pauling came to talk with us, Upton Sinclair. It was amazingly rich for a tiny, tiny school. But Lawrence took that and just broadened it – everything became broadened and deepened.”

On ditching her teaching career for theater after she and then-husband Phil Shallat moved to Seattle so he could study theater in graduate school:

“I was teaching high school there. … He said, there’s a new thing they’re doing (at the University of Washington School of Drama), a professional acting training program. I said, wow, that is so cool. Meanwhile, I had applied to teach at a terrific private school there. … But Phil suggested I also audition for that M.F.A. program. And I did, just on a lark. And on the same week, I got an acceptance into the (acting) program and an offer for my total dream teaching job. I held those two envelopes up and went back and forth and said, oh, heck, I’m going to do the acting thing. It was a whim almost.”

On her forays into acting after earning a master’s in fine arts from Washington’s Professional Actor Training Program:

“I acted in Seattle, but I knew somewhere in my head that acting, I just didn’t have a tremendous passion for it. I liked it. I loved doing it. But it wasn’t complete for me. I wasn’t secure with it or something.”

On her introduction to directing:

“I moved away from Seattle and down to San Francisco and then I got a job at South Coast Repertory in 1975, and they didn’t hire me for acting but they hired me to teach in the conservatory. And that led me to teaching at the colleges around there, so I was kind of cobbling together a bunch of teaching jobs but then what happened is Orange Coast College said we don’t have the money for you to teach next quarter but do you want to direct a play? So, I directed The Rivals, an 18th Century English play that I really liked. And I fell in love with directing right then and there.”

On embracing and thriving as a theater director, earning five L.A. Drama Critics Awards along the way:

“It all happened through my education in a way. If I hadn’t had the background of this liberal arts education I wouldn’t have been able to make a living doing the teaching part while I searched for what finally struck home for me — the directing.”

On turning to TV directing in the mid-1980s:

“That was another leap. That was like a crazy leap where I was now a resident director at South Coast Repertory. … I’d done some good directing, a lot of directing, to the point where in L.A., I had a little bit of a name. There weren’t a lot of women directing in theater then. 

“But I began to wish sometimes in productions I directed that I could do a close up. That sort of made me realize, maybe you really need to look at film. I applied to the AFI, the American Film Institute; they had a program for helping women get into film. But I didn’t get accepted. I continued to direct in L.A., and my friend Joe Stern, who was a producer on Law and Order, knew TV people as well as theater people. He said, Gary Goldberg has this new show called Family Ties. He’s looking for a woman director because there was some pressure at the time to start hiring women. You can see how far that got after 35 years.

“He said he wants someone who was good with actors, not just technical. I went in and I met Gary Goldberg, and he liked me, and we were the same age, so that was cool. He said, come in and observe. … So, after almost 10 years (at South Coast), I just quit. I had no idea if this was going to take me anywhere or whether I would succeed or not. I just moved up to L.A. and started observing on Family Ties, and I remember I was observing that show from August until, I think, October. … I started borrowing money from my boyfriend, … and then finally on the schedule my name came up for a show in February. So that’s how it all started.”

On how difficult the transition to TV proved to be:

“I think I did six to eight episodes of Family Ties. But not all before I moved on. That year I did one, then the next year I did two. Family Ties people knew me before I stepped up and they were there to support me because I’d been observing there and they were kind to someone just starting out. You go to other shows and they don’t know that. They just know that you don’t know what you’re doing yet. So those are tough times. Part of my speech is how tough it was. You get a few episodes and you try to develop. … You try to get as many gigs as you can and hopefully make a good impression so they’ll ask you back. What I realized is it takes 10 years to be good at that. And we were live-cutting shows. That was really, really hard.

“I had the support of knowing that I was educated. And that sounds weird, but it was actually quite significant to me that I knew things. I knew I could analyze a script, I knew that I could understand things. I could communicate well, I understood tone, I understood people. I was older than a lot of people who start. So, I had lived some life, too. And these were the things that buoyed me up during these very tough times.”

On highlights of a career that would include directing and/or producing work on Murphy Brown, Spin City, Northern Exposure, Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls, and The Middle, among others:

“Murphy Brown was certainly a big jump up for me. That’s when my agent finally talked somebody into getting me onto what you’d call a real major show. Working with such good writers. … And once I had Murphy Brown under my belt, that got me an Emmy nomination, and, all of a sudden, I was kind of accepted. I was brought into the club, I guess you could say.”

On her latest work, a nine-year run as director on The Middle:

“I got to be full-time on that for nine years, and we all became a family. That was a wonderful experience.”

On directing Michael J. Fox, first on Family Ties and later on Spin City, when, unbeknownst to most, he was beginning his battle with Parkinson’s disease:

“Michael J. Fox, I love to talk about him. Initially, Family Ties was supposed to be about two hippie parents who all of a sudden discovered that their kids are conservative. It was that reversal thing. But here comes this guy playing the conservative son who likes Nixon and stuff, and he was so funny and so inventive, and what happens in comedy is that the writers want their jokes to sail, so they start writing for that guy because he’s so good. All of a sudden, the show flipped, because Michael was so damn funny it became more centered on him. He became the star of the show.

“Michael is an interesting guy. He plays the comedy so well and it was a delight to watch him develop and sail, and you take good writers and then you take this great young actor and you watch it as they just start feeding each other. That was quite a wonderful thing to see. I loved watching that.

“Then I got to work with him on Spin City for a whole year in New York. And that’s when I learned that he had Parkinson’s. Nobody knew about it except me and Gary Goldberg because they didn’t want to make it public yet. And it was very challenging for Michael. But he was ever wonderful and I admire him so much.”

On working with Lauren Graham on Gilmore Girls, first as a director, then as an executive producer:

“Lauren Graham and I became friends during that last season on Gilmore Girls. It was very challenging because Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of the show, went away and that took the heart of the writing with it. Now she’s doing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and she’s a brilliant writer. But here we were with a whole year to do the final season of the show; the actors and writers worked incredibly hard to keep the tone of the show consistent. That is a very hard thing to do when for all previous years, Amy had written most of the scripts. Bless those writers and Lauren, they did a phenomenal job.”

On her respect for Jason Bateman, who she directed on Arrested Development:

“I love Jason Bateman. I adore him. Jason and I did a few pilots together before Arrested Development. A lot of the network people thought he was going to be or should be the next Michael J. Fox. But he wasn’t, that wasn’t Jason’s humor.

“I think he went through some real struggles, and then all of a sudden Mitch Hurwitz writes this brilliant series called Arrested Development and it taps into the real place where Jason can shine. I was so happy for him because it validated him, and now he’s got a great, great career. And he’s the nicest guy in the world and he was just very lovely to work with always.” 

On whether last year’s series finale of The Middle means the end of her career:

“I don’t know. I did the pilot for a spinoff from The Middle this fall, with the Sue character. It didn’t get picked up. I wrote a note to my agents and said, I’m not dead yet. But I don’t know. I feel maybe it’s time to give back again and do some other things. I’m at a crossroads, but I’ll see what comes up next season.”

On returning to Lawrence while not knowing what comes next:

“I’m like the graduates in a way. What am I going to do now? I just want to be open to stuff. I feel like I am in an interesting place in my life.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Sunshine, please: 19 things to know as you prep for Lawrence’s 2019 Commencement

The march across College Avenue to the Main Hall green, led by Faculty Marshal Kathy Privatt and President Mark Burstein (right), will again be part of Lawrence University’s Commencement. The ceremony, the 170th in the school’s history, is set for 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 9.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

We’re just a couple of short weeks away from Lawrence University’s 2019 Commencement, the 170th in the school’s storied history.

Here are 19 things to know as you prepare for the big day.

1. Sunday morning celebration: The ceremony on the Main Hall green will begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 9. All comers are welcome. The big tent that usually covers the seating area is not available this year, so it’ll be an open-air event. An alternate indoor site on campus — with limited seating — will be prepped for use should the weather be such that an outdoor ceremony is not possible. Watch for details on the Commencement page of the Lawrence website.

2. A class of brilliance: More than 330 students are expected to take that magical walk across the stage. Of those, 288 are bachelor of arts grads, 28 are bachelor of music grads and 15 are combo B.A./B.Mus. grads. Another 11 are participating in the ceremony but not receiving degrees until December.

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65

3. A speaker from stage and screen: Commencement speaker Lee Shallat Chemel ’65 will return to campus with stories to tell and wisdom to mine from an impressive career directing theater and television productions. Her deep love of theater was first sparked during her time at Milwaukee-Downer College and then Lawrence. After more than 15 years directing theater, most notably during a 10-year stint as conservatory director at South Coast Repertory in Orange County, California, she transitioned to the small screen, directing for such notable TV shows as “Family Ties,” “Murphy Brown,” “Arrested Development,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Gilmore Girls” and, most recently, “The Middle.”

Jordyn Pleiseis

4. From the senior class: Commencement also features words of insight and wisdom from a member of the senior class. This year’s speaker, selected by her peers, will be Jordyn Pleiseis ’19, an anthropology major from Milwaukee.

5. Saying goodbye: Honoring retiring faculty is always a significant — and often emotional — part of Commencement. The Lawrence community will be celebrating two long-serving tenured faculty as they bid adieu to the classroom, Bruce Hetzler, professor of psychology, and Kenneth Bozeman, the Shattuck Professor of Music in the Conservatory of Music’s voice department. Both have taught hundreds (maybe thousands) of Lawrentians during their celebrated four decades-plus at Lawrence.

6. Livestream available: A livestream of the ceremony will be available for viewing in real time. It’s an opportunity to watch the ceremony online if you can’t be in attendance. The livestream can be accessed at the time of the event from the Commencement page.

There will again be plenty of opportunities for photos following Commencement.

7. Smile, you’re on camera: Yes, there will be plenty of opportunities for family and friends to take photos of their graduates. There are lots of picturesque locations across campus.

8. Talent on display: Commencement weekend is a chance for seniors to show some skills, with a Senior Art Exhibition in the Wriston Art Center Galleries set for Friday (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Saturday (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sunday (noon to 4 p.m.) and a Commencement Concert featuring members of the Class of 2019 planned for 7:30 p.m. Friday in Memorial Chapel. Look for a reception following the concert in Shattuck Hall, Room 163.

9. Spiritual journey: On Saturday, the 11 a.m. Baccalaureate Service, a multi-faith celebration of the spiritual journey of the Class of 2019, will be held in Memorial Chapel. Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Constance Kassor will deliver the address. It’s presented for seniors and their families.

10. Picnic moves indoors: The annual Commencement weekend picnic at noon on Saturday, held on the Main Hall green in past years, has been moved inside the Warch Campus Center. Seniors and their families, as well as faculty and staff, are invited. Following the picnic, President Mark Burstein will host a reception for seniors and their families at the president’s home from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

11. In search of parking: Parking is available in the city parking ramp just west of campus. Some street parking is available around campus but availability can’t be guaranteed. Here is some helpful parking info from the City of Appleton.

12. There will be awards: As per tradition, several of Lawrence’s most cherished awards will be handed out to faculty during the Commencement ceremony — the University Award for Excellence in Teaching, Award for Excellence in Scholarship or Creative Activity, and Excellence in Teaching by an Early Career Faculty Member. The winners are not announced until Commencement.

Graduation hats are part of the Commencement day attire. Decorations are optional.

13. Dressed for success: The regalia of Commencement is among the great traditions of higher education — the gowns, the caps, the hoods, the cords all signaling a particular accomplishment along the journey of academia.

14. Music to come and go: Speaking of grand traditions, the music of the processional and the recessional will embrace this group of graduates, courtesy of the Lawrence University Graduation Band. Andrew Mast will again conduct as the band performs Crown Imperial by William Walton for the processional and Procession of the Nobles by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for the recessional.

15. Familiar and new faces: Led by President Mark Burstein, there will be familiarity in the ceremony. Kathy Privatt, the James G. and Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama, will again serve as faculty marshal. David C. Blowers, chair of the Board of Trustees, will offer the convocation for the second year in a row. Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Kodat will present the faculty awards. One notable change will come in the opening and closing words, a duty handled for many years by Howard E. Niblock. He retired last year, and that honor now falls to Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life.

The Class of 2019 displays its green flag during Welcome Week four years ago. Per tradition, each class is assigned one of four colors.

16. Class colors: Look for plenty of green to be on display during Commencement. The tradition of assigning a color — red, green, yellow, or purple — to each class at Lawrence has its roots in Milwaukee-Downer history. It was reinstated at Lawrence in 1988 and has continued since. The color of the Class of 2019 is green.

17. Conferring of degrees: That magical moment when the graduates’ names are called and they make the walk across the stage and the degrees are conferred is the heart and soul of any Commencement ceremony. Handling those duties for bachelor of music recipients will be Burstein and Dean of Conservatory Brian Pertl ’86. Handling for bachelor of arts recipients will be Burstein and Kodat.

18. A parade of another sort: A parade of graduates isn’t the only parade during the June 8-9 weekend that might get your attention. The 68th annual Flag Day Parade will march through downtown Appleton beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday. It will affect traffic in the downtown area as thousands of onlookers line the streets to watch the state’s oldest Flag Day parade. It’ll start on Oneida Street at Wisconsin Avenue, make its way to College Avenue, then proceed through the downtown, turning north at Drew Street and ending at City Park. See details here.

19. A Juneteenth celebration: Speaking of city events near campus, you may also want to note this one on your calendar. Appleton’s ninth annual Juneteenth Celebration will take place from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday in City Park, providing a possible post-Commencement destination. It also will affect parking near the campus in the afternoon hours.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Acclaimed TV, theater director to return to Lawrence as Commencement speaker

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65

A Lawrence University alumna who paved an impressive 40-year career in theater, film, and television will return to campus on June 9 as the 2019 Commencement speaker.

Lee Shallat Chemel, a 1965 graduate who first attended Milwaukee-Downer College before transferring to Lawrence when the two schools merged, spent much of her career directing such notable television comedies as “Family Ties,” “Murphy Brown,” “Mad About You,” “Northern Exposure,” “Spin City,” “The George Lopez Show,” “Arrested Development,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Gilmore Girls,” and, most recently, “The Middle.” Her list of directing credits includes more than 500 episodes on more than 90 TV series or specials, from her debut with “Family Ties” in 1984 to her work on “The Middle” in 2018.

She is a four-time individual Emmy Award nominee for directing — three prime time, one daytime.

Details here on 2019 Commencement events at Lawrence

Chemel graduated from Lawrence with a bachelor’s degree in English, magna cum laude, in 1965. She later earned master’s degrees in Asian theater and education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a master of fine arts in acting from the University of Washington’s Professional Acting Training Program. She was an East Asian Languages Fellow at the University of Michigan.

She then taught in public schools in Norwalk, Connecticut, Racine, Wisconsin, and Seattle, Washington, before launching a career in theater.

Chemel received five L.A. Drama Critics Awards for directing in theater.

As a professional theater director, she worked at theaters across the country including the Alley Theatre in Houston, Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island, The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and South Coast Repertory in Orange County, California, where she worked for more than 10 years, also serving as Conservatory director.

She has served as a member of the California Arts Council and on the Liberty Hill Foundation Grants Board, as well as board positions in the Directors Guild of America.

“Lee Shallat Chemel’s successful career as a director of theater, television, and film provides a wonderful example for our graduating class,” said Mark Burstein, president of Lawrence University. “Her passion for and understanding of culture, humor, and current society makes her one of the leading entertainers of our generation. We look forward to celebrating this alumna’s accomplishments at Commencement this spring.”

Chemel mixed her theater successes with a robust career in television. She had a hand in directing episodes in some of the most iconic series in television history, and working with some of the leading actors and actresses of the past 30 years. Her stint with “Gilmore Girls” included the title of co-executive producer as well as director. She also worked as a producer on “The Nanny” and “Happily Divorced,” and she was director on a pair of TV movies.

In addition to her Emmy nominations, she was the recipient of three BET Awards for outstanding direction in comedy and two Humanitas Prize Awards.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, David, a retired actor and teacher. Their daughter, Lizzy, is a graduate of Bard College and an artist living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Their son, Tucker, is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California.

The June 9 Commencement will mark Lawrence University’s 170th. 

Commencement exercises will begin at 10 a.m. at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, located several blocks to the west of campus in downtown Appleton. 

Appleton native, Iowa Writers’ Workshop Director named Lawrence’s 2016 commencement speaker, honorary degree recipient

It will be a homecoming of sorts for award-winning writer and Appleton native Lan Samantha Chang when she returns to the Lawrence University campus to receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree Sunday, June 12 at the college’s 167th commencement ceremony.

Chang, the director of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, also will serve as the principal commencement speaker. This will be Chang’s first honorary degree.

“An understanding of the creative process is core to the education Lawrence offers,” said President Mark Burstein. “We are very pleased that Lan Samantha Chang will join us for commencement this spring so we can honor an Appleton native who has perfected her craft and now teaches it to others as director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. From her first book, which the New York Times described as ‘a taut, incisive study of Chinese immigrants in America and their almost wordless struggle to adapt to a new life,’ to more recent work, Samantha has provided us a window into the human experience.”

Lan Samantha Chang will receive an honorary degree from Lawrence and serve as the principal speaker at the college's 167th commencement June 12. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.
Lan Samantha Chang will receive an honorary degree from Lawrence and serve as the principal speaker at the college’s 167th commencement June 12. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Chang, whose parents emigrated to the United States from China, graduated from Appleton West High School in 1983. Her honorary degree will further connect her to Lawrence. Her mother earned a bachelor of music degree in piano pedagogy from Lawrence, while her father was an associate professor of engineering at the former Institute of Paper Chemistry, which had a long affiliation with Lawrence.

“Receiving an honorary degree from Lawrence means a great deal to me,” said Chang, “in part because when I was growing up, Lawrence was the center of intellectual life in Appleton. It is a greatly respected university. I have vivid memories of being at the conservatory during my mother’s recitals and meeting her professors.”

Her path to award-winning writer followed a circuitous route. Chang attended Yale University intending to satisfy her parent’s wishes of pursuing a medical degree, but she soon decided becoming a doctor was not in her future. After earning a degree in East Asian Studies, she told her parents she would become a lawyer, another career option more designed to please her parents than her own interests. She eventually earned a master’s of public administration degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

“I realized that I didn’t want to pursue that direction either,” Chang explained of her second change of heart. “It was really just a question of coming to face the fact that I had never wanted to do anything else except write fiction and that it would be pointless to try to keep trying to do other things.”

Chang eventually enrolled at the University of Iowa and earned a master of fine arts in creative writing.

While she says her life has been much easier since then, “I don’t think I’ve ever circled as much as I did after college when I understood that I would have to disappoint my parents and pursue an uncertain life,” said Chang.

Before returning to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Chang taught creative writing at Stanford University as Jones Lecturer in Fiction, in Warren Wilson College’s MFA program for writers and at Harvard University as Briggs-Copland Lecturer in Creative Writing.

Since 2006, she has served as the program director of the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where she also teaches English as the May Brodbeck Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Chang’s experiences as an Asian American inspired her to write two novels and a collection of short stories about the merging of Chinese and American culture and the dynamics of family and wealth in times of hardship or after war. Her works include 1998’s “Hunger: A Novella and Stories,” 2004’s “Inheritance: A Novel” and “All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost: A Novel” in 2010.

Chang’s work has been recognized with the 2005 PEN Open Book Award for “Inheritance,” while “Hunger” was the winner of the Southern Review Fiction Prize and named a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Award. Chang’s writing has been selected twice (1994, 1996) for inclusion in the yearly anthology “The Best American Short Stories.”

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” and Fiske’s Guide to Colleges 2016. 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.

Civil rights icon John Lewis to deliver Lawrence commencement address June 14

He met Rosa Parks when he was 17 years old. He met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was 18.

John-Lewis_newsblog
Congressman John Lewis

He spoke at the 1963 March on Washington when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

He was beaten as he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the day in 1965 that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

He organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn., as a college student and was among the Freedom Riders who helped pave the way for the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act.

He has described himself as “a soldier in a nonviolent army.”

Congressman John Lewis, a genuine American historic figure and living legend in civil rights activism, has spent nearly all of his 75 years of life getting in the way — what he calls “good trouble” — on behalf of social justice.

In the 50th anniversary year of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Lewis will deliver Lawrence University’s 166th Commencement address Sunday, June 14. He will be joined on stage by another instrumental figure in the  civil rights movement, Appleton native James Zwerg, one of the courageous Freedom Riders of the early 1960s. Both men will be recognized with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Commencement exercises begin at 10:30 a.m. on Main Hall green. A live webcast of the commencement ceremony will be available at http://www.livestream.com/lawrenceuniversity.

“Becoming an engaged citizen is one of the central tenets of a liberal arts education and so we are proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 at this year’s commencement, which provided a path to an essential right for many people in this country,” said President Mark Burstein. “We look forward to welcoming Congressman Lewis back to campus and having Mr. Zwerg represent local participation in the events that led up to the legislative passage of The Act.”

John-Lewis-convo_newsblog
Congressman Lewis has visited Lawrence twice previously, including 2005, when he delivered the university convocation “Get in the Way.”

This will be the third visit to Lawrence by the son of an Alabama sharecropper who has represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since 1986. Lewis’ first trip to Lawrence came in April 1964 as head field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to speak at a campus-sponsored “Civil Rights Week” event. He returned to campus in February, 2005 to deliver the university convocation “Get in the Way.”

While still in his early 20s, Lewis, whose forehead still bears a scar from Bloody Sunday, already had established himself as a nationally recognized leader in the civil rights movement. His engagement with the  movement included three years (1963-66) as the chair of the SNCC. He later served as the director of the Voter Education Project, helping to add nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Lewis head of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.

Lewis’ efforts and contributions toward building what he as calls “the beloved community” in America have been recognized with dozens of prestigious awards, among them the 2010 Medal of Freedom, the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the National Education Association’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award and the John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for lifetime achievement.

J.-Zwerg-&-John-Lewis_newsblog
Former Freedom Rider James Zwerg (left) and civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis will be recognized with honorary degrees June 14 at Lawrence’s 166th commencement. Photo courtesy of Beloit College.

A graduate of Fisk University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary, Lewis is the author of “Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change,” which received the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Best Literary Work-Biography and the graphic novel memoir trilogy “March.”

The first volume of “March” reached no. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list and was included on lists of the best books of 2013 by the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, The Horn Book Review, Booklist and others.

The trilogy’s second installment, which examines Lewis’ days as a Freedom Rider, was released in January.

Burstein will preside over his second commencement as president. Lawrence is expected to award bachelor degrees to 281 students from 28 states and seven countries during Commencement.

Retiring faculty member, Jane Parish Yang, associate professor, department of Chinese and Japanese, will be recognized for her 24 years of teaching with an honorary master of arts degrees, ad eundem, as part of the graduation ceremonies.

In addition to Lewis, Burstein, Lawrence Board of Trustees Chair Susan Stillman Kane ’72 and senior Mallory Speck from St. Charles, Ill., also will address the graduates.

Prior to Commencement, Lawrence will hold a baccalaureate service Saturday, June 13 at 11 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Julie McQuinn, associate professor of music, presents “Cinderellas and Cyborgs: Ritual, Imagination and Transformation.” The baccalaureate service and commencement exercise are both free and open to the public.

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 Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and 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.

Senator Feingold Addresses Lawrence Grads (listen to his remarks)

Former U.S. Senator Russell Feingold encouraged Lawrence University’s Class of 2011 to become “citizen diplomats” as they begin the next phase of their lives.  Feingold was the university’s commencement speaker June 5, 2011. He told graduates, families and university dignitaries that they are the keys to creating a positive image of Americans when they are traveling the world as students, on business or on vacation. (click on the arrow to hear the remarks.)

Video of the commencement ceremony will be available later this month.

Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Steitz Delivers Lawrence University Commencement Address

Lawrence University graduate Thomas Steitz, whose research on the structure of ribosomes earned him the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, returns to his alma mater Sunday, June 13 as featured speaker for the college’s 161st commencement. It will be Steitz’ first visit back to his home state since being named a Nobel laureate.

Lawrence is expected to confer 310 bachelor of arts and/or music degrees to 297 seniors from 33 states and 14 countries during graduation ceremonies that begin at 10:30 a.m. on the Main Hall green.

John Dreher, Lee Claflin-Robert S. Ingraham Professor of Philosophy, delivers the address “What’s Good Today” at a baccalaureate service Saturday, June 12 at 11 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. The baccalaureate service and commencement exercise are both free and open to the public.

Four retiring faculty members will be recognized at commencement. s. Robert McMillen Professor of Chemistry Jerrold Lokensgard, Professor of Biology Brad Rence Professor of French Judy Sarnecki and Associate Professor and Director of Technical Services in the library Corrine Wocelka will be awarded honorary master of arts degrees for their combined 129 years of service to Lawrence.

During commencement, President Jill Beck, Lawrence Board of Trustees Chair Harry Jansen Kraemer ’77 and senior Alicia Bones of Omaha, Neb., will join Steitz in addressing the graduates.

Tom-Stetiz2_web
Thomas Steitz

Steitz, who grew up in Milwaukee and graduated from Wauwatosa High School in 1958, was named one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in October and received his award in ceremonies last December in Stockholm, Sweden. He was honored for his decades-long research into the structure and function of ribosomes, which decode messenger RNA into proteins, a function central to life. An understanding of the structural basis of the function of ribosomes provides possibilities for the development of new antibiotics.

Since 1970, Steitz has taught at Yale University, where he is the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and professor of chemistry. He also is an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

His address Sunday will be his third appearance on the Lawrence commencement stage. In addition to receiving his own bachelor’s degree with a major in chemistry in 1962, Steitz was awarded an honorary doctorate of science degree in 1981. Lawrence also recognized Steitz with its Lucia R. Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002.

On Friday, June 11, Lawrence will rename its 10-year-old Science Hall the Thomas A. Steitz Hall of Science in recognition of Steitz’ achievements.

Since winning the Nobel Prize, Steitz has maintained a busy travel schedule. He returned earlier this week from Cambridge University in England where he delivered a lecture to the Medical Research Council. He arrived in England from Erice, Sicily where he was teaching a class. During the past several months, he has attended conferences or delivered lectures in California, Denmark, France, Italy and Switzerland.

The Nobel Prize was just the latest in a long list of awards and honors Steitz has received during his distinguished career. He has been the recipient of the Pfizer Prize from the American Chemical Society, the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for distinguished work in basic medical sciences and the Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He also was awarded Japan’s Keio Medical Science Prize in 2006, which honors researchers for outstanding and creative achievements in the fields of medicine and life sciences and the 2007 Gairdner Foundation International Award, which recognizes outstanding discoveries or contributions to medical science.

After Lawrence, Steitz earned a Ph.D. degree in molecular biology and biochemistry from Harvard University, where he worked with 1976 Nobel Prize winner William Lipscomb. Following a postdoctoral year at Harvard, he moved to the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England before joining the Yale faculty in 1970.

Steitz is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was recently elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

His wife, Joan Steitz, also is a Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale. Steitz’ younger brother, Richard, graduated from Lawrence as well, earning a bachelor’s degree with a major in mathematics and physics in 1964.

2009 Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Steitz to Deliver Lawrence University’s 2010 Commencement Address

Nobel Prize-winner Thomas Steitz will return to his alma mater to deliver the commencement address at Lawrence University’s graduation ceremonies June 13, 2010.

Tom-Steitz_web.jpgSteitz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Lawrence in 1962, was named one of three winners of the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry Oct. 7 for his research describing the structure and function of ribosomes. He will receive his Nobel Prize medal Dec. 10 during ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.

“We are delighted and honored that our distinguished alumnus is making a visit to Lawrence part of his extremely busy schedule,” said Lawrence President Jill Beck. “We look forward to welcoming Dr. Steitz back to campus in June. The seniors in the Class of 2010 should have a very exciting commencement ceremony.”

In a letter to President Beck, Steitz said he would rearrange plans to be in Europe so he could attend the June exercises.

“I have decided that it is very important for me to accept your invitation for next spring’s commencement,” Steitz wrote. “My years at Lawrence were of such great importance to me and my life and I feel I must pay tribute to Lawrence.”

Steitz credits his Lawrence education for setting him “on the right path.”

“It gave me an appreciation about how to think about answering questions,” said Steitz. “I was taught how to put things together, how to integrate information. I think that has been an important contributor all along.”

The Nobel Prize recognized Steitz’ decades-long research on the structure and function of the ribosome, which transforms encoded DNA information into proteins central to all of life’s functions. To determine its structure, he used the technique known as X-ray crystallography to map the position of each of the more than 100,000 individual atoms that make up the ribosome. His research has helped scientists develop new generations of antibiotics.

A native of Milwaukee and a graduate of Wauwatosa High School, Steitz is the Sterling professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and professor of chemistry at Yale University, where he has taught since 1970. He also is an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

After graduating cum laude from Lawrence, Steitz earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry from Harvard University. Prior to joining the Yale faculty, Steitz worked at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

Earlier this month, Lawrence announced it would rename its newest science building “Thomas Steitz Science Hall” in honor of the Nobel Prize-winning alumnus.

Lawrence University Recognizing New York Times Columnist Bob Herbert with Honorary Degree

APPLETON, WIS. — Award-winning New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree Sunday, June 14 by Lawrence University at the college’s 160th commencement. As part of commencement exercises, Herbert also will address the graduating seniors.

Herbert has written a twice-a-week op-ed column on politics, urban affairs and social trends for the Times since joining the paper in June 1993. Prior to that, Herbert spent two years as a national correspondent for NBC, reporting regularly on “The Today Show” and “NBC Nightly News.”

He launched his broadcast career in 1990 as a founding panelist of “Sunday Edition,” a weekly discussion program on WCBS-TV in New York and also served as host of “Hotline,” a weekly hour-long issues program on WNYC-TV.

Born in Brooklyn, Herbert began his journalism career in 1970 as a reporter with The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., and was promoted to night city editor in 1973. He joined The Daily News in New York in 1976 as a general assignment reporter. He later served as national correspondent, consumer affairs editor, city hall bureau chief and city editor. In 1985, he became a columnist and was appointed to the paper’s editorial board. His column ran in The Daily News until February 1993.

Herbert has been recognized with numerous awards for his work, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors award in 1988 for distinguished deadline writing, Columbia University School of Journalism’s 1989 Mike Berger Award, which honors distinguished and enterprising reporting by New York journalists and most recently, the 2008 David Nyhan Prize from the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University for excellence in political reporting. In 1993, Herbert served as chairman of the Pulitzer Prize jury for spot news reporting.

He is the author of the 2005 book “Promises Betrayed: Waking Up from the American Dream,” a collection of essays in which he examines the lives of ordinary citizens, minorities and children who are facing real problems in a society Herbert argues too often fails to meet the American creed of fairness and justice.

Herbert earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the State University of New York (Empire State College). He has taught journalism at Brooklyn College and the Columbia University School of Journalism.