2015 Commencement Speakers Announced

Simmons is proud to host two highly regarded activists and social justice advocates during our 110th Commencement ceremonies Friday, May 15 at the Blue Hills Pavilion in Boston.

  • Acclaimed Civil Rights lawyer, social justice advocate, author, and legal scholar Michelle Alexander is the speaker for the morning undergraduate ceremony at 9:30 a.m. 
  • Filmmaker, philanthropist, and activist Abigail Disney is the speaker for the afternoon ceremony for master’s and doctoral students at 2:30 p.m.

“These two women exemplify the Simmons College tradition of educating students for leadership and success to make a difference in the world,” said Simmons College President Helen Drinan. “Their powerful work to shine a spotlight on social injustice issues of our time embodies the message of empowerment, excellence, and possibility that we want to impart to our graduates.”


Michelle Alexander

Alexander, a leading voice for racial equality in America, wrote the 2010 critically acclaimed, New York Times best selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which explores the high percentage of African American males incarcerated in the United States. Alexander’s book won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best non-fiction and remained on the New York Times Best Seller List for more than a year.

Since its first publication, The New Jim Crow has received critical acclaim and been featured in national radio and television media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, Bill Moyers Journal, Tavis Smiley, C-SPAN, and Washington Journal, among others. Prior to entering academia, Alexander served as the director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she coordinated media advocacy, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and litigation. The Project’s priority areas were educational equity and criminal justice reform. Alexander credits those years at the ACLU with awakening her to the many challenges of our nation’s criminal justice system. She is currently an associate professor of law at Ohio State University.


Abigail Disney

Disney has devoted her life to amplifying the voices of women fighting for peace in war-torn countries, and highlighting the key role women play in modern warfare. Her first film, the acclaimed documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, tells the inspirational story of Liberian women who came together to end their country’s brutal civil war. The film won Best Documentary at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival and went on to be viewed across the United States at community screenings, in theaters, on public television, and later in 60 countries around the world. It is broadly credited with helping its lead figure, Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist responsible for leading the peace movement that helped bring about the end of the civil war in her country, be named a Nobel Prize winner in 2011.


Honorary Degree Recipients 

Both Alexander and Disney will receive honorary degrees from Simmons. Also receiving honorary degrees are:

  • Deborah Porter, a literary critic, and the founder and executive director of the Boston Book Festival, the largest public literary event in New England. The first festival was held in 2009, and drew more than 10,000 attendees; it has since doubled in size, with 25,000 attendees and more than 100 presenters annually including Pulitzer Prize-winning authors from around the world. Porter is a Simmons College alumna, having received an MA in Children’s Literature. 
  • Laurence Prusak, a knowledge management researcher, teacher, author, and founder and director of the Center for Business Innovation at Ernst and Young, and the IBM Institute of Knowledge Management. A Simmons College alumnus having received an MS in Library Science, Prusak is a Senior Advisor on Knowledge for NASA, and has been a guest lecturer at some of the world’s most renowned universities, including MIT and Stanford.
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