Colleges and universities in the Capital Region have lined up a diverse slate of commencement speakers, with business leaders, influential media and other luminaries tapped to inspire this year’s graduating classes.
One of the more compelling speakers will be U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who is speaking at two local schools: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at 8:30 a.m. May 25 in the stadium at the East Campus Athletic Village, and Union College at 10 a.m. June 16 at the school’s Hull Plaza. At Union, Lewis will also receive an honorary degree.
Lewis is one of the civil rights movement’s most notable figures. The son of Alabama sharecroppers, he grew up during the Jim Crow era, attending segregated schools. As a student at Fisk University in Nashville, he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Fighters — activists who rode interstate buses throughout the segregated South to challenge the region’s failure to enforce a pair of Supreme Court decisions that ruled segregated public buses were unconstitutional. As a Freedom Rider, Lewis was arrested and beaten.
Lewis later helped Martin Luther King organize the 1963 March on Washington, and is the last surviving keynote speaker from the event. In 1965, he attempted to lead a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., and suffered a fractured skull in the violence that ensued when the group was met by Alabama state troopers armed with billyclubs and tear gas. The day later became known as Bloody Sunday.
Lewis has represented Atlanta and several other Georgia cities in Congress since 1986, and continues to work for human rights. In 2011, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
RPI will also present honorary degrees to retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula Burns and Patricia Stonesifer, former chairman and CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Addressing the University at Albany’s graduating class May 19 at 10 a.m. at the school’s Entry Plaza will be two alumni: Avery Lipman, a 1988 graduate, and Monte Lipman, a member of the class of 1986. The men are the founders and chief executives of Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group that oversees popular artists such as Gotye and Enrique Iglesias.
The College of St. Rose will celebrate its commencement Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Times Union Center with a number of local natives. James Sandman, president of the Washington-based Legal Services Corp., will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate. The Legal Services Corp. is a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to people who cannot afford it.
In addition, Capital Region philanthropists J. Spencer and Patricia Hunter Standish will receive honorary doctorates, and Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany will receive the college’s highest honor, the Carondelet Medal, for his 36 years as bishop.
Skidmore College will observe its commencement May 18 at 10:40 a.m. at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with a speaker selected by the graduates themselves: Rebecca Krefting, an assistant professor of American studies at the school and a former standup comic and improv actress.
Skidmore is also awarding two honorary degrees, and the recipients — New York Times columnist David Brooks and Cynthia Blum Carroll, a 1978 graduate and a leader in the mining industry — will deliver brief remarks.
The commencement speaker for The Sage Colleges hails from one of New York’s rapidly growing industries. Hamdi Ulukaya, president, founder and CEO of Chobani Inc., the maker of Chobani Greek Yogurt, will speak at the schools’ joint commencement at 10 a.m. on May 18 at the Houston Field House in Troy. He will also receive a honorary doctorate of humane letters. Australian actor Zoe Caldwell will receive an honorary doctor of arts and letters.
Other noteworthy commencement speakers include:
• Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio programs, will speak at Albany Law School’s commencement at 10 a.m. May 17 at SPAC.
• Dr. Bruce Beutler, a Nobel laureate credited with developing groundbreaking methods to block the immune system’s inflammatory reaction, will speak at Albany Medical College’s commencement at 1 p.m. May 23 at SPAC.
• Dr. Richard H. Daffner, who teaches radiologic science and writes textbooks and articles on the subject, will speak at the Albany College of Pharmacy’s commencement at 1 p.m. May 18 at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.
• Pete Dominick, a media personality who hosts Sirius XM Radio’s Stand Up!, will speak at SUNY Cobleskill’s commencement at 11 a.m. Saturday at the school’s Bouck Hall Gym.
• George Goldhoff, president and CEO of Pure Canadian Gaming, which owns casinos throughout Canada, will speak at Schenectady County Community College’s commencement at 4 p.m. May 23 at Proctors.
• Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, will speak at Union Graduate College’s commencement at 3 p.m. June 15 at Proctors.
• Tina Good, a professor of English and faculty coordinator for assessment at Suffolk County Community College, as well as a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees, will speak at Fulton-Montgomery Community College’s commencement at 7 p.m. May 17 in the school’s physical education building.
• James Lytle, president of the Empire State College Council, will speak at the Center for Distance Learning at SUNY Empire State College’s commencement at 3 p.m. June 8 at the Saratoga Springs City Center.