commencement speaker

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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.

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

“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.”

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.

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.

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.