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Emerson College Announces 2019 Commencement Speaker Soledad O'Brien, Honorary Degree Recipients

Emerson College Announces 2019 Commencement Speaker Soledad O'Brien, Honorary Degree Recipients

Emerson College, the nation's premier institution for the arts, communication, and the liberal arts, today announced its honorary degree recipients for 2019. On Sunday, May 12, during Emerson College's 139th Commencement ceremony, the college will honor four award-winning scholars, authors, writers, and filmmakers for their contributions and efforts to highlight diverse stories and voices through their work. Award-winning journalist, speaker and author Soledad O'Brien; award-winning scholar and writer Nell Irvin Painter; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy- nominated filmmaker and theatrical producer Jose Antonio Vargas; and the President of Miami Dade College Eduardo J. Padrón will each receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. O'Brien will give the commencement address.

Approximately 960 undergraduate students will receive their degrees during the Commencement ceremony that will be held at the Agganis Arena at Boston University, 925 Commonwealth Avenue. The ceremony will begin at 10:00 am and will be streamed live at Graduate hooding ceremonies for the School of the Arts and School of Communication will be held the day prior at the Paramount Center on Emerson's campus beginning at 2:00 pm.

"At Emerson, we are actively working to make the liberal arts, communication and the arts more accessible, more inclusive, and more diverse. As we celebrate the Class of 2019, who represent the next generation of artists, storytellers, and truthseekers to go out into the world, we are thrilled to honor four individuals who have each harnessed the power of their own voice to achieve a deeper and fuller understanding of what it means to be American," said President M. Lee Pelton.

Soledad O'Brien, an award-winning journalist, speaker, author and philanthropist, is founder and CEO of the Starfish Media Group. She anchors and produces the Hearst Television political magazine program "Matter of Fact with Soledad O'Brien." She also reports for HBO Real Sports and has authored two books, her critically acclaimed memoir "The Next Big Story" and "Latino in America." She has anchored or reported for the ABC, NBC and CBS networks, Fox and Oxygen, MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, A&E, National Geographic, the PBS NewsHour, and WebMD. She has won numerous awards, including three Emmys, the George Peabody award twice for her coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the British Petroleum Gulf Coast oil spill, an Alfred I DuPont prize for her reporting on the Southeast Asia tsunami and the Gracie. Newsweek magazine named her one of the "15 People Who Make America Great." With her husband, she is founder of the PowHERful Foundation that helps young women get to and through college.

Nell Irvin Painter is a distinguished and award winning scholar and writer. The Edwards Professor Emeritus of American History at Princeton University, she is the author of eight books and countless articles relating to the history of the American South. Painter's latest book, Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over, was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and was highlighted by O: The Oprah Magazine. Her New York Times best seller, The History of White People, guides us through more than 2000 years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but the frequent praise of "whiteness." Her critically acclaimed book, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, won the nonfiction prize of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She is also the author of Southern History Across the Color Line, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919, which won the Letitia Brown Memorial Publication Prize, The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South, Creating Black Americans, and Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction. In addition, she has been featured as a narrator in the PBS historical series American Experience. She is the recipient of the Centennial Medal of the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, was a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, and several other institutions, was selected as the President of the Southern Historical Association for 2007, and is a recipient of the Brown Publication Prize awarded by the Association of Black Women Historians, among others.

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and theatrical producer. A leading voice for the human rights of immigrants, he founded the non-profit media and culture organization Define American, named one of the World's Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company. His best-selling memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, was published in 2018. Most recently, he co-produced the acclaimed play What the Constitution Means to Me, which opened on Broadway in spring 2019. In 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine worldwide with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up story he wrote. He produced and directed Documented, an autobiographical documentary feature film that aired on CNN and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Also in 2015, MTV aired White People, an Emmy-nominated television special he produced and directed on what it means to be young and white in a demographically-changing America. Vargas has received several awards including the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA and honorary degrees from Colby College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He also serves on the advisory board of TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students. This fall, an elementary school named after Vargas will open in his hometown of Mountain View, California.

Eduardo Padrón arrived in the United States as a teenage refugee in 1961 and rose through academia to serve, since 1995, as President of Miami Dade College (MDC), the largest degree granting institution of higher education in America. Credited with elevating MDC into a position of national prominence among the best and most recognized U.S. colleges and universities, Dr. Padrón is an economist by training who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. He has become known as a prominent national voice for access and inclusion in higher education and in 2018, was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences; in 2016, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and, in 2009, TIME magazine included him on the list of "The 10 Best College Presidents." He also was recognized as "Floridian of the Year" by Florida Trend magazine, named one of the eight most influential college presidents in 2011 by The Washington Post, and in 2015, was inducted into the U.S. News & World Report STEM Hall of Fame. He is the recipient of many other awards including the 2011 Carnegie Corporation Centennial Academic Leadership Award and the Citizen Service Award from Voices for National Service and has served the boards of several national organizations including the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and the White House Commission on Educational Excellence. He currently serves the Council on Foreign Relations, International Association of University Presidents, and others. He is the recipient of numerous honorary doctorates and prestigious awards from global leaders from France, Argentina, Spain, Morocco and Poland. Previous Emerson College commencement honorary degree recipients include late-night TV host Jay Leno '73; actor and comedian Denis Leary '79; renowned journalist, author and host of NPR's Weekend Edition, Scott Simon; co-creator of the hit series Friends and trustee Kevin Bright '76; former poet laureate Billy Collins; celebrated civil rights advocate Anita Hill; Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough; and 2016 MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" winner and poet Claudia Rankine.

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 communication and the arts, a mission informed by liberal learning. The College has 3,780 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 in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, the Netherlands, London, China, and the Czech Republic as well as its new Global Portals, with the first program launching this fall in Paris. The College has an active network of 39,000 alumni who hold leadership positions in communication and the arts. For more information, visit

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