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Urban College awards Pelton honorary degree

Emerson President Lee Pelton received an honorary degree in human services from Urban College of Boston during its graduation ceremony at the Cutler Majestic Theatre on Sunday, June 1, along with U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and George A. Russell Jr., former corporate citizenship executive for State Street Corporation.


Emerson President Lee Pelton speaks at Urban College of Boston's graduation ceremony at the Cutler Majestic Theatre on June 1. (Courtesy Photo/Urban College)

Urban College, which is located next to Emerson’s Ansin Building on Tremont Street, conferred 65 associate degrees to its working-class students, the majority of whom are raising children and live in Boston’s inner city neighborhoods of Roxbury and Dorchester.

Michael Taylor, president of Urban College, said in his speech that his institution was on the brink of closing due to financial problems when he took his position about a year and a half ago.

“One of the first calls I received was from Lee Pelton,” Taylor said. “He simply called to see how he, and Emerson College, could be helpful to us. Considering the challenges we were facing at that particular moment, I never forgot that gesture of kindness and partnership.”

“I didn’t realize at the time that the culture of partnership was a theme that was pervasive within the Emerson community,” Taylor said.


Nancy Daniel, dean of academic affairs for Urban College (far left), and Michael Taylor, Urban College President (second from right), on stage with two graduates June 1. (Courtesy Photo/Urban College)

Taylor praised Pelton for creating the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research, which opened this past academic year, “to further establish the College’s commitment to its host city.”

“I had the privilege of working with (1943 Emerson alumna) Elma Lewis,” Taylor said. “She was an icon in Boston’s minority community, and she utilized the arts as a vehicle for personal and community transformation. Under President Pelton, Emerson continues Elma Lewis’ legacy.”

Urban College graduation

Urban College graduates at the Cutler Majestic Theatre on June 1. (Courtesy Photo/Urban College)

Taylor also commended Emerson students and staff for being “generally engaged in the neighborhoods of Boston, from Roxbury to Chinatown.”

Pelton thanked Taylor for “this very high honor.”

“It really means everything to me to be here with you,” Pelton said to Taylor and the degree recipients.

Pelton reflected on his life growing up in Kansas as an African-American boy shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education decision was made in 1954.

“In our commitment to equality and social justice,” Pelton said, “our hope is that out of the rich diversity of human experience, we can create communities of learning, made both beautiful and effective by their pluralism, [and] that will turn the tide of human light into a sea of joy.”


Peter Ebb, Urban College Board of Trustees Chair, and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. (Courtesy Photo/Urban College)

Pelton shared a proverb as a parting thought to the graduates: “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together,” he said.

In accepting her honorary degree, Ortiz reminded the audience that 98 percent of the graduates held full-time jobs while taking courses at Urban College, and about 67 percent were women.

“You already know what it’s like being in the real world,” said Ortiz, who grew up in public housing in New York and was appointed in 2009 as the nation’s first female and Hispanic U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama. “You’re truly an inspiration to us all.”

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