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HomeArchivesEmerson College Announces 137th Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony Speakers and Honorees

Emerson College Announces 137th Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony Speakers and Honorees

Emerson College’s 137th Undergraduate Commencement Ceremonies to Honor: Celebrated civil rights advocate Anita Hill; acclaimed novelist Dennis Lehane;
Pulitzer Prize–winning author David McCullough; MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner, poet Claudia Rankine

Media Contacts: Carole McFall, 617-824-8415,
Michelle Gaseau, 617-824-3547,

(April 19, 2017) BOSTON, MA—On Sunday, May 14, 2017, during Emerson College’s 137th Undergraduate Commencement ceremony, celebrated civil rights advocate Anita Hill; acclaimed novelist Dennis Lehane; Pulitzer Prize–winning author David McCullough; and 2016 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” winner and poet Claudia Rankine will each receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. Lehane will give the undergraduate address and Emerson Communication Studies Associate Professor Emeritus John Anderson, will give the graduate address.

Approximately 975 undergraduates and 270 graduate students will receive their degrees during Commencement ceremonies that will be held at the Agganis Arena at Boston University, 925 Commonwealth Avenue. The undergraduate ceremony will begin at 10:00 am, followed by the graduate ceremony at 3:00 pm. Both ceremonies will be streamed live at

Anita Hill grew up the youngest of 13 children on a farm in Oklahoma. She received a JD from Yale Law School in 1980 and began her career in private practice in Washington, DC, where she also worked at the U.S. Education Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1989, she became the first African American to be tenured at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law, where she taught contracts and commercial law. Currently, she is University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University. As counsel to Cohen Milstein, she advises on class action workplace discrimination cases. Hill is spearheading the “The Gender/Race Imperative,” a project to revive awareness of the broad capacity of Title IX. Expanding her pursuit of equality beyond law and policy, Professor Hill is teaming up with MacArthur Genius Grant–winning artist Mark Bradford on an exhibit for the 2017 Venice (Italy) Biennale International Arts Festival, opening in May 2017. The two are also collaborating on an exhibit inspired by the text of women civil rights activists and their various contributions to the iconic 1963 “March on the Mall” and the Civil Rights Movement. She has had numerous national television appearances and written extensively on subjects ranging from bankruptcy to equal educational opportunity, and her commentary has been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Time magazine.

Dennis Lehane was born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Since his first novel, A Drink Before the War won the Shamus Award, he has published 12 more novels with William Morrow & Co. including Darkness, Take My Hand, Prayers for Rain, and World Gone By; all have been translated into more than 30 languages and become international bestsellers. Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Live by Night have been adapted into films. Lehane was a staff writer on the acclaimed HBO series The Wire and a writer-producer on the fourth season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Currently, he is a writer and producer on the television adaptation of Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes and has two dramatic series for DirecTV in development. He has won numerous literary awards: Mystic River was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Winship Award and won the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best Novel, the Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Book-sellers Association, and the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction from the Massachusetts Center for the Book. His novel, Live By Night, received the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year. His next book Since We Fell will be published on May 9, 2017 (Ecco). Lehane grew up in Boston, and before becoming a full-time writer, worked as a counselor with mentally handicapped and abused children, waited tables, parked cars, drove limos, worked in bookstores, and loaded tractor trailers.

David McCullough has been acclaimed as a “master of the art of narrative history.” He has received numerous awards and honors including two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards, and he has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. His most recent book, the widely praised The Wright Brothers, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and remained on the list for nine months. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, also a #1 bestseller, has been called “dazzling” and “history to be savored.” His 1776 has been acclaimed “a classic,” while John Adams, published in 2001, remains one of the most praised and widely read American biographies of all time. It is now in its 46th printing. John Adams, the seven-part mini-series on HBO produced by Tom Hanks, was one of the most acclaimed television events in recent years. In a crowded, productive career, he has been an editor, teacher, lecturer, and familiar presence on public television—as host of Smithsonian World, The American Experience, and narrator of numerous documentaries including Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Born in Pittsburgh in 1933, he was educated there and at Yale University. He has enjoyed a lifelong interest in art and architecture and is also a devoted painter. His latest book, The American Spirit, was published on April 18, 2017.

Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations; and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind.  For Citizen, Rankine won the Forward Prize for Poetry; the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was also nominated in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award’s history to be a double nominee); the Los Angeles Times Book Award; the PEN Open Book Award; and the NAACP Image Award. A finalist for the National Book Award, Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

John Dennis Anderson, PhD, Emerson College Associate Professor Emeritus in Communication Studies, is a performance studies scholar, who focuses his research in the area of narrative theory and performance. Dr. Anderson performs nationally in solo Chautauqua presentations as authors Henry James, William Faulkner, Washington Irving, Lynn Riggs, Robert Frost, and Louis Bromfield. He was co-recipient of the National Communication Association's Leslie Irene Coger Award for Distinguished Performance in 2013. Dr. Anderson is a former Chair of the Performance Studies Division of the National Communication Association and recipient of its Distinguished Service Award in 2014. After serving on the faculty of Emerson College in the Department of Communication Studies for 27 years, Dr. Anderson retired in August 2016. At Emerson, he was the Director of the Honors Program for two terms (1989-1996, 1999-2003) and served as Interim Chair of the Department of Communication Studies from 2012-2014. Faculty Assembly presented him with the Faculty Service Award in 2013. He was awarded a summer seminar fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1991 and has received various Chautauqua humanities grants to present programs on early America, the Civil War, the 1930s, the Centennial of Oklahoma statehood, Hollywood's Impact on American Culture, and World War I.

About Emerson College Based in Boston, Massachusetts, opposite the historic Boston Common and in the heart of the city’s Theatre District, Emerson College educates individuals who will solve problems and change the world through engaged leadership in the liberal arts, communication, and the arts. The College has approximately 3,500 undergraduates and 670 graduate students from across the United States and 50 countries. Supported by state-of-the-art facilities and a renowned faculty, students participate in more than 90 student organizations and performance groups. Emerson is known for its experiential learning programs at Emerson Los Angeles, located in Hollywood, and at its beautifully restored 14th-century castle in the Netherlands. The College has an active network of 37,000 alumni. For more information, visit


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