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Speakers leave Class of 2015 with inspiration

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Robin Roberts of ABC News receives a Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree as President Lee Pelton, Assistant Professor of Journalism Tim Riley, and others gather on stage. (All photos by Frank Monkiewicz)

Good Morning America host Robin Roberts was the best-known person on stage at the 135th Emerson College Commencement Ceremony at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on May 18, but words of inspiration came from several other distinguished guests and students as the Class of 2015 bid farewell.

Robin Roberts gives unscripted Commencement Address.

Roberts received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, along with 19th United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, doctor and Paralympics champion Cheri Blauwet, and outgoing Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley. Professor Megan Marshall provided the Graduate Commencement Ceremony Address.

Watch video of the 2015 Emerson College Commencement speeches.


Many students got creative with their graduation caps.

Three retiring faculty members received Professor Emeritus or Emerita status during the ceremony: Assistant Professor Mary Ellen Adams of Performing Arts; Professor Flora Gonzalez of Writing, Literature and Publishing; and Professor Murray Schwartz of the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Megan Marshall, professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author


Megan Marshall, Charles Wesley Emerson Professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, provided the Graduate Commencement Address.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Emerson faculty member Megan Marshall, who was recently named Charles Wesley Emerson Professor, provided the Graduate Commencement Address, saying she was “envious” of the outgoing students.

“You might have noticed that among the kind things said about me by President [Lee] Pelton, or published about me in the program, there’s not one word about an MA, MFA, or PhD,” said Marshall, of the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department. “It’s actually kind of embarrassing to be standing in front of you considering that.”

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A student celebrates receiving his degree.

Marshall, who obtained her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and in 2014 won the Pulitzer for Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, said it took her two decades to put together her 2005 biography, The Peabody Sisters, which was nominated for a Pulitzer but did not win.

“Some people have told me I should be proud to have written the books I have, to be a member of a distinguished faculty at a truly great college without having earned a graduate degree. Of course, I am,” Marshall said. “But I’m not really proud of having been so stubborn and starry eyed in my 20s and 30s. Things could have easily turned out differently for me. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had gone to grad school.”

However, throughout her touching speech, Marshall reminded graduates that it’s OK to march to the beat of their own drums.

“Don’t always play it safe,” she said. “Practice your craft, hone your skills, and add to them. Keep your skills high and raise them higher… Self-doubt may be something you have always lived with, but it’s never too late to get going on life’s work.”

Cheri Blauwet, MD, and Paralympic champion


Physician and Paralympic champion Cheri Blauwet is led to the Commencement stage by Chief Academic Officer Michaele Whelan and Athletics Director Pat Nicol. 

Cheri Blauwet is a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, instructor at Harvard Medical School, and a wheelchair athlete who won seven medals for the United States Paralympics Team and is a two-time winner of both the Boston and New York City marathons.

Blauwet received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree after a citation from Professor Daniel Kempler of Communication Sciences and Disorders, who said Blauwet is “not just a Paralympic and marathon champion. You are a champion of hard work, perseverance, incredible strength, kindness, and social justice.”

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Parents and students alike celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2015.

“The accomplishments that contribute to me being here today… are truly the result of the bold and very tenacious leaders that came before me and supported me along the way,” Blauwet said. “This summer, July 26, 2015, marks [the] 25-year anniversary [of the Americans with Disabilities Act]. Although no one law transforms society in and of itself, looking back, I now understand the impactful way that the ADA ensured equality and desegregation of the disability community across our country.”

Blauwet said racial and gender equality movements in earlier decades led to momentum that resulted in the passage of the ADA in 1990, “and we need to remember and be appreciative of that.”

“That said, there is still much more work to be done and many frontiers ahead,” she said. “You graduates will have a very heavy hand in making that happen.”

Lee Pelton, Emerson College President


President Lee Pelton gives the Presidential Valedictory Address.

In his Presidential Valedictory Address, Emerson College President Lee Pelton told students, “Today, for you, marks the end of one thing and the beginning of another.”

“We welcome you into the company of educated people,” Pelton said. “While you came to Emerson from many different communities and academic institutions and work environments, a common thread that united you with your classmates was your commitment to pursue knowledge.

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Pelton presents a Bachelor of Arts degree to Jen Tiedemann '15, a Performing Arts major.

“At Emerson, we sought to give you the access, the knowledge, and the tools that you will need to play leadership roles in [your] important fields.

“You will leave Emerson prepared for increased responsibilities as an agent for change, as a motivator, as a leader, as someone who writes poetry or prose, fiction or drama, someone who writes with vision and purpose.

“In your life after Emerson, I charge you to make no small plans, because, as [an] author remarked, small plans don’t create the magic that stir the souls and hearts of people.”

Anne Hawley, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum director


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

De-nin Lee, assistant professor in Visual and Media Arts, described Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley as an “innovative arts leader, tireless contributor to the Commonwealth’s culture, and revered director” before Hawley was presented with Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

“Emerson College has cast such an incandescent glow over the city of Boston,” Hawley said, “with this brilliant faculty that participates so much in the life of the city, the recently restored theaters that welcome all of us into public spaces, and of course, the student body.”


Camera- and smartphone-holding parents at the 2015 Commencement.

Hawley is credited with transforming the museum into a vital cultural center over the past 25 years, leading a $180 million capital campaign and construction of a new wing, along with creating several celebrated additions to Isabella Stewart Gardner, including Sunday Concerts, the artist-in-residence program, and other programs that explored challenges to the urban landscape.

“You… are the energetic leaders of culture and communication in our future,” Hawley told graduates. “It’s so exciting to see you sitting here today about to assume the roles some of us have held during our careers. I know you’re going to transform our institutions and you’re even going to invent new ones, and you’re going to become the civic leaders of our future.”

Natasha Trethewey, 19th Poet Laureate of the United States


Natasha Trethewey, 19th Poet Laureate of the United States, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Natasha Trethewey served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014). She is the author of four collections of poetry, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Domestic Work was selected for former Poet Laureate Rita Dove as the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet, which won several other awards.

“It is indeed an honor to be here and welcomed into the Emerson College family,” Trethewey said. “But more than that, because this day is really about you, I am grateful that you let me share it with you. Deeply grateful. Congratulations to you, Class of 2015.”

Zach Ehrlich ’15, Senior Class Speaker


Zach Ehrlich '15 was the 2015 Senior Class Speaker for the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony.

This year’s Senior Class Speaker was Zach Ehrlich, a Visual and Media Arts major from Chappaqua, New York, who last year won the 2014 Student Leader of the Year Award. Ehrlich has worked on various Emerson Channel shows, served as vice president and president of the comedy troupes Inside Joke and Stroopwafel, respectively, was president of SPEC, Emerson’s co-curricular screenwriting group, and was an executive producer and head writer of the 2014 EVVY Awards, which recently won a College Television Award from the Emmy Foundation.

In 2011, Ehrlich became the youngest winner of the Austin Film Festival’s Pitch Competition.

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Several students got creative with their graduation caps.

In Ehrlich’s introduction, Chief Academic Officer Michaele Whelan shared remarks Ehrlich had earlier shared with her: “I have held an unimaginable number of titles and responsibilities at Emerson in the pursuit of figuring out what I enjoy doing and what I am good at. As it turns out, what I like is to be useful.”

When Ehrlich took the podium, he opened with comic relief, thanking “students, faculty, administrators, friends, relatives, exalted trustees, bored siblings on iPhones, future generations on YouTube, and, of course, majestic sign language interpreter, whose graceful gestures are like cherry blossoms wafting to earth.”

Later in his speech, Ehrlich encouraged his fellow graduates through humor to use arts and communication to help head an ever-fragmented world.

Charles Jabour, MA ’15, Graduate Class Speaker


Charles Jabour, MA '15, was the 2015 Graduate Class Speaker.

Theatre Education major Charles Jabour was the Graduate Class Speaker, opening his remarks by saying, “I approach this podium today with a great deal of uncertainty,” but explained how that feeling was OK.

The Graduate Student Association president and co-director of EmersonNEXT said coming to graduate school was a new beginning for him because he was not always a model student. He said working with his classmates at Emerson has been inspiring.

“We’ve all encountered that along the way… How am I going to get through this?” Jabour said. “But we did get through it. We’ve all faced doubt and overcome that doubt. Why? Because that’s who we are. We are the forward movers. Today all those paths meet here for this moment and we get to become masters at something. I find that to be profound.”

Student Award Winners


Julianna Buck '15 received the Dean of Students Award from Dean Ronald Ludman, who is retiring after working for 37 years at Emerson.

Julianna Buck ’15, a Marketing Communication major with a minor in psychology, won the Dean of Students Award from Dean Ronald Ludman, who is retiring after working for 37 years at Emerson. Ludman praised Buck for her 3.79 grade-point-average, combined with her numerous campus volunteer roles, which included her serving as an orientation leader and on the Campus Climate Committee.

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President Lee Pelton presents Nyla Wissa '15 with the President's Citation Award.

Nyla Wissa ’15, a Performing Arts major, received the President’s Citation Award from President Pelton. Wissa recently won the Spirit of Emerson Award and is credited with launching Flawless Brown, a theatre troupe for women of color.

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