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Poet Laureate Billy Collins to Speak at Emerson Commencement

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins will join an award-winning documentary filmmaker, a bestselling author and screenwriter, and a Massachusetts Supreme Court justice on stage at Emerson College’s 138th Commencement Ceremony Sunday, May 13.

Collins will give the commencement address to approximately 990 undergraduates, and Deeyah Khan, an Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentarian, will address around 270 graduate students. Justice Elspeth “Ellie” Cypher ’80 and novelist Tom Perrotta will receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees, along with Collins and Khan.

Both undergraduate and graduate ceremonies will be held at Boston University’s Agganis Arena.

Billy Collins, Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, said he sees his poetry as “a form of travel writing,” and humor as “a door into the serious.” He is a Guggenheim fellow and a New York Public Library “Literary Lion,” whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The American Scholar, among others. His last three collections have broken sales records for poetry, with Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems 2003-2013 and The Rain in Portugal, both New York Times bestsellers.

Collins, a frequent guest on National Public Radio programs, has published 12 poetry collections, including Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning and Sailing Alone Around the Room. He has edited two anthologies of contemporary poetry, and was the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2006.

In addition to fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, Collins was awarded the Oscar Blumenthal, Bess Hokin, Frederick Bock, and Levinson prizes by Poetry magazine. He was the inaugural winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry and in 2016 was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

Born in Norway to parents of Pashtun and Punjabi ancestry, Deeyah Khan’s experience of living between different cultures – both the beauty and the challenges – shapes her artistic vision. In addition to being an award-winning documentary film director, she is founder of Fuuse, a media and arts company that puts women, people from minority groups, and third-culture kids at the center of telling their own stories. In 2016, she became the first UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for artistic freedom and creativity.

She has received numerous honors for her work supporting freedom of expression, human rights, and peace, including the Ossietzky Prize, the University of Oslo’s Human Rights Award, and the Peer Gynt Prize from Norway’s Parliament.

Her 2012 award-winning documentary Banaz: A Love Story, chronicles the life and death of Banaz Mahmod, a young British Kurdish woman murdered by her family in a so-called honor killing. Her second film, Jihad, nominated for Grierson and BAFTA awards, involved two years of interviews with Islamic extremists, convicted terrorists, and former jihadis. For her most recent BAFTA-nominated film, White Right: Meeting the Enemy, Khan sat down with U.S. neo-Nazis and white nationalists. The Times of London wrote, “[Khan] is one of the bravest, most indomitable women … facing down bullies and extremists with intelligence and unflinching spirit.”

Ellie Cypher, a magna cum laude graduate of Emerson College and Suffolk University Law School graduate, was appointed as Associate Justice to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by Gov. Charlie Baker in February 2017, after having served as an Associate Justice on the state’s Appeal Court since 2000.

Following her graduation from law school in 1986, Cypher was an associate at the Boston law firm of Grayer, Brown and Dildav. Two years later, she became an assistant district attorney in Bristol County, where she served for 12 years. In 2000, she received Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly’s Lawyer of the Year Award for her work in the long-running prosecutions of James Kater for the 1978 murder of Mary Lou Arruda.

Cypher was for many years an adjunct professor at Southern New England School of Law (now the University of Massachusetts School of Law – Dartmouth), where she taught courses on legal writing; criminal procedure; criminal law; and women, law, and the legal system. She has served as co-chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Criminal Law section, and in 2012, she co-authored a fourth edition of Justice Kent B. Smith’s books in the Massachusetts Practice series, Criminal Practice and Procedure. She assumed authorship of the three-volume series in 2013.

Tom Perrotta is the bestselling author of nine novels, including Election and Little Children, both of which were made into Academy Award-nominated films; and The Leftovers, which was adapted into a critically acclaimed, Peabody Award-winning HBO series. Perrotta served as an executive producer and writer on the show.

His other books include Bad Haircut, The Wishbones, Joe College, The Abstinence Teacher, Nine Inches, and his latest, Mrs. Fletcher, whose narratives trace the evolution of a mother and son’s individual attitudes toward sex and morality. He has written reviews for the New York Times Book Review, as well as commentary for GQ, New York Times Magazine, and The Guardian. He holds a BA from Yale University and an MFA from Syracuse University.

Emerson’s undergraduate commencement ceremony begins at 10:00 am; followed by the graduate ceremony at 3:00 pm.


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