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A series on President Pelton’s five commitments

EDITOR’S NOTE: President Pelton, in his September 14 inaugural address, outlined five specific measures that he believes will move Emerson from “excellent to extraordinary”— establishing the College as the world’s leading institution of higher education in the arts and communication. The measures are: to raise the bar of academic excellence; to innovate; to extend the College’s reach globally; to engage and assist nearby communities; and to ensure sound financial stewardship. In this five-part series, we will address one measure each day. Below is an excerpt on advancing the College’s civic engagement and responsibility from President Pelton’s inaugural address:

Civic Engagement

President Pelton announced the establishment of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement and Learning during his inagural address. 

Our fourth commitment is to advance civic engagement and responsibility. Our nation looks to colleges and universities to help solve society’s most pressing problems. Just as we ask our students to share their talents and resources with those who have not had the good fortune to participate in the bounty of life, so, too, must Emerson College. Just as we ask students to live a life of no regrets and where they see wrong, to right it; where they see hurt, to soothe it; and where they see a broken heart, to mend it, so, too, must Emerson College.

To further Emerson’s commitment to civic engagement, I am very pleased to announce the establishment of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement and Learning.

Elma Lewis, born in Roxbury, worked her way through Emerson College, graduating in 1943. Seven years after she graduated, she founded the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts (1950) and the National Center of Afro-American Artists. She was one of the first women to receive a MacArthur genius award; she was awarded the National Medal for the Arts in 1983. Though Boston was her home, she became known nationally as a leading advocate for the arts, introducing generations of diverse young people to dance, opera, and theater. She understood the power of the arts and culture to help young people imagine the possibilities of a better life.

I did not know her when I lived in Boston. But I knew of her marvelous influence on society, especially on young people who were struggling to find their way in life.

The center will bring existing Emerson College civic engagement programs under a single administrative structure and support the development of new Emerson College–community partnerships that serve the common good.

We especially commit to work with urban schools to address common problems and to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of our local and extended communities. We have already begun discussions to create partnerships with Cristo Rey High School in Dorchester and East Boston High School: to assist Cristo Rey in improving the communication skills of its students and to establish a four–year college preparatory program for East Boston students.

For we believe that it is our duty to ensure that the path to leadership is made visible and open to all, not just a privileged few. 

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