Emerson College will award four honorary degrees during the College’s 131st Commencement ceremonies on Monday, May 16, at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre.
Journalist, television personality, author, playwright, and human rights advocate Janet Langhart Cohen will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters at the undergraduate ceremony. The day before Commencement, she will address graduates at an academic awards ceremony at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
Langhart Cohen broke a television color barrier in Chicago in the 1960s, serving as the first black weather person for a CBS affiliate (WBBM-TV). She rose to national prominence in the 1970s as the first black woman to host a nationally syndicated TV show. She is the author of From Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas and contributed to Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion and Romance, written by her husband, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.
At the graduate Commencement exercises, WCVB-TV political and investigative reporter Janet Wu will be awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters. From 1979 to 1983, she covered state politics for WGBH-TV in Boston. Since 1983, Wu has been the NewsCenter 5 state house reporter for WCVB-TV. In 2006, she joined WCVB’s investigative unit, Team 5 Investigates. In 2010, Wu was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
This year’s Commencement speakers will also receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. As announced last week, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, a member of Emerson College’s class of 1980, will deliver the undergraduate address. He’s written numerous screenplays, including The Fisher King, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1992.
The graduate address will be delivered by Clifford Christians, professor emeritus in the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the former director of the Institute of Communications Research and chair of the doctoral program in communications at the University.
Approximately 1,000 bachelor’s degrees will be conferred at the 131st annual undergraduate ceremony, which will begin at 11:00 am, and more than 200 master’s degrees will be conferred during the graduate exercises, which start at 3:00 pm. Receptions for family and friends will be held on Boston Common following each event.
Clifford Christians is the former director of the Institute of Communications Research and chair of the doctoral program in communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a position he also held from 1987 to 2001. He has been a visiting scholar in philosophical ethics at Princeton University and in social ethics at the University of Chicago, and a PEW fellow in ethics at Oxford University. On the faculty at Illinois since 1974, Christians has won five teaching awards. His teaching interests are in the philosophy of technology, dialogic communication theory, and media ethics. He has been published in numerous national and international journals. Christians received his PhD in communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
He serves on the editorial boards of a dozen academic journals, is the former editor of Critical Studies in Media Communication, and currently edits The Ellul Forum. He has lectured or given academic papers worldwide in countries that include Belgium, Norway, Russia, Finland, Taiwan, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Singapore, Korea, Scotland, Philippines, Slovenia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Sweden. He is listed in Who’s Who in America, International Who’s Who in Education and Outstanding Scholars of the 21st Century: Communication Ethics. The Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society of Duquesne University gave him its Ethics Scholar Award in 1999, and the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research offers its Ethics Research Award annually in his name.
In 2003, he won the AEJMC Presidential Award for distinguished service to journalism and mass communication education, and in 2004, AEJMC’s Paul J. Deutschmann Award for Excellence in Research. He was the James A. Jaksa Ethics Scholar in Residence at the Eighth National Communication Ethics Conference in June 2004.
Janet Langhart Cohen
Janet Langhart Cohen’s distinguished career in communication and the arts spans nearly five decades and reflects personal and professional achievements as an award-winning journalist, television personality, author, playwright, and human rights advocate.Born and raised in Indianapolis, she broke a television color barrier in Chicago in the 1960s, serving as the first black weather person for a CBS affiliate (WBBM-TV). She rose to national prominence in the 1970s as the first black woman to host a nationally syndicated TV show, Good Day, which was produced in Boston by WCVB-TV.
Langhart has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC and BET and produced several programs, including On Capitol Hill with Janet Langhart. She worked as an overseas correspondent in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and as a special reporter for Entertainment Tonight. She has also been a columnist for the Boston Herald and U.S. News and World Report, served as a spokeswoman for Avon Cosmetics, judged the White House Fellows program, and judged the Miss America Pageant an unprecedented three times.
She has interviewed many leaders and major newsmakers of the 20th century, including President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher, Rosa Parks, Mel Gibson, Bill Cosby, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Denzel Washington, Dan Rather, and Larry King.
In 2007, Langhart added playwright to her list of accomplishments, writing and producing a one-act play called Anne and Emmett, an imaginary conversation between two teenage victims of institutional racism: Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank and African American Emmett Till, who was murdered by whites in 1955. The play is believed to be the first artistic work to draw parallels between the experiences of the two young people. It made its first fully staged U.S. debut at Emerson College in 2008, with actors from the College and from the Boston Arts Academy.
Richard LaGravenese was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Emerson College (class of 1980) and graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Experimental Theatre Program. He went on to try his hand at comedy, performing and writing for a troupe he helped develop. In addition to holding down unrelated day jobs, the struggling actor helped make ends meet by writing monologues for other actors. He segued to films as a co-writer on the comedy Rude Awakening (1989).
His big break came from his second produced screenplay, The Fisher King (1991), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film starred Jeff Bridges as long-haired Jack Lucas, a suicidal New York DJ who regains his grasp on life after meeting Parry, an ostensibly insane homeless man (Robin Williams) obsessed with questing for The Holy Grail in midtown Manhattan.
LaGravenese courted additional acclaim with his screenplays for his popular 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and that same year’s Bridges of Madison County, adapted from the Robert James Waller novel, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Living Out Loud (1998), a romantic comedy drama starring Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah, marked LaGravenese’s directorial debut. That effort’s 1998 release marked only one endeavor amid a very productive year for LaGravenese, as two other films he had adapted for the screen, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, directed by Jonathan Demme, and Nicholas Evans’ The Horse Whisperer, directed by Robert Redford, were released around the same time. In 2000, LaGravenese was an uncredited script reviser for Steven Soderbergh’s wildly popular Erin Brockovich, written by Susannah Grant.
LaGravenese also wrote and directed Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank and doubled up as director and screenwriter on another film starring Swank, the box-office hit P.S. I Love You. His most recent screenplay credit,Water for Elephants, is currently in theaters.
Janet Wu is an award-winning political and investigative reporter at WCVB-TV Boston and dean of Massachusetts State House Broadcasters. A native of Bridgewater, New Jersey, Wu received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1972. She began her career in journalism as a reporter for United Press International from 1973 to 1978. From 1979 to 1983, she covered state politics for WGBH-TV in Boston. Since 1983, Wu has been the NewsCenter 5 state house reporter for WCVB-TV. In 2006, she joined WCVB’s investigative unit, Team 5 Investigates. In addition, she teams with NewsCenter 5 Anchor Ed Harding to co-host On the Record, a weekly roundtable discussion of Massachusetts politics.
As a key member of WCVB’s political unit, Wu and other team members were honored in 2001 and again in 2005 with the coveted Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Political Journalism. In 1998, Wu was awarded top honors in the Associated Press Investigative/Enterprise category and the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting for her report entitled “Public Property, Private Lies.” In addition, the NewsCenter 5 political team was honored in 1989 with a First Place National Headliners Award and a Murrow Award for the best political coverage of any station in the nation. In 2010, Wu was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Wu’s son is enrolled in Emerson’s MFA program in Writing, Literature and Publishing.