University News

Web update: Simmons to deliver Commencement address

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2012

President Ruth Simmons will deliver the baccalaureate address at Commencement for the class of 2012, the University announced Friday. 

This year’s ceremony will mark Simmons’ 11th as president. Simmons, the University’s 18th president and the first black president in the Ivy League, announced her decision to step down last September. She has said she plans to return to the University as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies after spending a year away from Brown to “take up projects that have been on hold far too long.” 

Traditionally, well-known University outsiders such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and foreign policy expert Fareed Zakaria have delivered the baccalaureate address.

“Usually, people get overly excited and overly hyped about someone with a big name,” said Adam Driesman ’12. “In past years, people have gotten disappointed when they didn’t live up to the hype, so I feel like Ruth is best because she knows us and knows what we’re like as Brown students.”

“If it were anyone else, it wouldn’t feel quite right,” said Sophie Kainen ’12.

Samantha Williams ’12 said she expects the speech to be “pretty witty and contain a lot of good advice.”

But Joseph Rettig ’12 expressed reservations about the position being filled by someone he has heard speak many times. He added that while Simmons merits the honor, “I just don’t know if the baccalaureate speaker is the format I’d like to see her speak in.”

Alex Kryger ’12 said the speech will give students the opportunity to hear Simmons speak in a different context from the beginning or end of a given academic year. “The topic doesn’t have to be so Brown-centric,” Kryger said.

Simmons will also deliver commencement addresses at the University of Rochester and the University of Oklahoma this May. These universities will join the ranks of more than 30 other institutions of higher education that have awarded Simmons honorary degrees.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald earlier this week, Simmons said she plans to work on book projects, reflect on what she would like to teach and travel to France during her leave from the University.

But, she added, “I can’t imagine any position that would be important enough to supplant Brown in my – first of all, in my heart, among my goals, and so forth.”

During her tenure, Simmons increased the University’s faculty by 20 percent and launched the Campaign for Academic Enrichment, a fundraising initiative that raised more than $1.6 billion by its close in December 2010. She also oversaw the expansion of the University’s graduate programs and the creation of a School of Engineering. In 2003, she appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice to investigate the University’s historical involvement with the slave trade. The committee’s 2006 report garnered national media attention. 

Simmons is a graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans and earned her PhD in Romance languages and literatures at Harvard. She was formerly the president of Smith College and previously was an administrator at the University of Southern California, Princeton and Spelman College.

Simmons has received the Fulbright Fellowship, the 2001 President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2004 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the 2010 Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the 2010 Foreign Policy Association award. President Obama named her to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships in 2009. Simmons also sits on the boards of Texas Instruments and the planned Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

She will deliver her address May 26 in the First Baptist Meeting House at 2:30 p.m. A simulcast will play live to the Main Green to allow graduates’ family and friends to view the ceremony.


With additional reporting by Herald staff

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