Speakers & Honorary Degree Recipients

Jacqueline Woodson
Undergraduate Ceremony Speaker

Jacqueline WoodsonJacqueline Woodson is a prolific, dynamic, and decorated author. To date, she has published 33 books ranging in genre from adult novels, children's picture books, poetry, and young adult fiction. Woodson's texts often weave in her personal journey growing up in Greenville, South Carolina until age seven and her subsequent move to Brooklyn, New York. She brings keen insight into issues that impact our lives including race, culture, language, and status. She is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a National Book Award finalist, a two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner, and an NAACP Image Award winner. She is the Library of Congress's 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

She is the 2014 National Book Award Winner for her New York Times bestselling verse memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award and a Sibert Honor. Her other books include Caldecott Honor book Coming On Home Soon; additional Newbery Honor winners Feathers, Show Way, and After Tupac and D Foster; and Miracle's Boys, which also received the LA Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award.

Thanks to the generosity of philanthropic Simmons alums, parents, and friends, a copy of Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming will be provided to every Simmons student earning their Bachelor’s Degree at Commencement.

Joan Wallace-Benjamin
Graduate Ceremony Speaker

Joan Wallace-BenjaminJoan Wallace-Benjamin is a highly respected authority in the field of child and family services. Prior to her retirement this January, for 15 years she led the Home for Little Wanderers as President and CEO, transforming it into a leader in innovative programming for underserved populations. Previously, Wallace-Benjamin served as President and CEO of The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, Director of Operations for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, and Deputy Director of ABCD Head Start. Her service to the citizens of Massachusetts also includes her selection as Chief of Staff to Governor Deval Patrick.

Wallace-Benjamin earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Wellesley College, and a Ph.D. from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. She has served on the Board of Directors of Bridgewater State University and was appointed by Governor Patrick to co-chair the Families and Children Requiring Assistance Advisory Board. A former board member of City Fresh Foods, she has served as a Trustee of Wellesley College and member of the Board of Overseers for The Heller School for Social Policy & Management as well. Additionally, she has been a Corporation Member of Northeastern University and a Trustee of Pine Manor College.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Honorable Leslie E. HarrisHonorable Leslie E. Harris, Associate Justice, Suffolk Juvenile Court (Ret.). To be honored for his dynamic career and dedication to social justice. Growing up in the south side of Chicago, Harris saw first hand the struggles young people in America face. His professional journey started as a counselor to gang members in Chicago and led to such roles as: a third and fourth grade teacher, college lecturer, social worker, program director for METCO, hearing examiner for a local rent control board, public defender, probation officer, and division chief in a District Attorney's Office. In September 1994, Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld appointed him Associate Justice of the Suffolk Juvenile Court, where he served for two decades and where he was a determined advocate, through the Detention Diversion Advocacy Project, for alternatives to youth incarceration.


Frieda GarciaFrieda Garcia, founding director of La Alianza Hispana and former executive director of United South End Settlements (USES). To be honored for her tireless advocacy and leadership, and for her 50-year career dedicated to uncovering new and effective ways to bring economic and social opportunities to Boston residents who need them most. In 1971 Garcia helped launch La Alianza Hispana, one of the city's first agencies to focus on services for poor Latino families. La Alianza Hispana has grown to become a hub of social service delivery, advocacy, and education, having served more than 30,000 individuals and families. In 1981, Garcia took over leadership of USES, overseeing the development of new programs in adult education and training, housing services, computer technology, and cultural enrichment. Her involvement in community groups and organizations committed to social justice is legendary, and her contributions to the City of Boston were recognized with the naming of the Frieda Garcia Park at the corner of Clarendon and Stanhope Streets.