Commencement Recognition Celebration

The annual Commencement Recognition Celebration is held the evening before Commencement to recognize alumnae/i, students, parents, and friends who support the University through extraordinary financial contributions.The evening program also includes the presentation of the President’s Recognition Awards, which is a tradition that began in 2011. The “loan forgiveness” awards help reduce student loan debt for those awarded.

In addition to members of the 1899 Leadership Society and the John Simmons Society, special guests include each year’s honorary degree candidates and commencement speakers.
Last year’s Commencement Recognition Celebration was held on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Honorary Degree recipients and Commencement speakers are individuals whose life work demonstrates a commitment to values embraced by Simmons: the pursuit of excellence, gender equality and the advancement of women, diversity, inclusion, and investment in community.

The 2018 Honorary Degree recipients and Commencement speakers included:

Ms. Frieda Garcia, Doctor of Humane Letters
Frieda Garcia’s career has been dedicated to uncovering new and effective ways to bring economic and social opportunities to Boston residents who need them most. In 1971 she 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, she took over leadership of United South End Settlements (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.

The Honorable Leslie E. Harris, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa
The Honorable Leslie E. Harris’ career has been dedication to social justice. Growing up in the south side of Chicago, he saw firsthand 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.

Dr. Joan Wallace-Benjamin, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa
2018 Graduate Commencement Speaker
Joan Wallace-Benjamin is a highly respected authority in the field of child and family services. Prior to her retirement in January of 2018, 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, she 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. She 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 a member of the board of overseers for The Heller School for Social Policy and Management. In addition, she has been a corporation member of Northeastern University and a trustee of Pine Manor College.

Ms. Jacqueline Woodson, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa
2018 Undergraduate Commencement Speaker
Jacqueline Woodson is a prolific, dynamic, and decorated author. As of May 2018, she has published 33 books ranging in genre from adult novels, children's picture books, and poetry to 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 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; 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 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award.