Speaker & Honorary Degree Recipients

Learn more about our May 2021 Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipients.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

Speaker, Commencement Ceremony, Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa

Headshot of Ayanna Pressley

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is an activist, a legislator, a survivor, and the first woman of color to be elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Throughout her career as a public servant, Congresswoman Pressley has fought to ensure that those closest to the pain are closest to the power - driving and informing policymaking. During her first term in Congress, Congresswoman Pressley has been a champion for justice: reproductive justice, justice for immigrants, consumer justice, justice for ageing Americans, justice for workers, justice for survivors of sexual violence, and justice for the formerly and currently incarcerated. 

Currently, Congresswoman Pressley serves on two powerful Congressional committees – the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Committee on Financial Services– both of which have remained focused on legislatively addressing issues of care, concern, and consequence to the American people. Prior to being elected to Congress, she served on the Boston City Council for eight years, and she was the first woman of color elected to the council in its 100-year history.

Helen G. Drinan ’75MS(LIS), ’78MBA

Doctor of Management, Honoris Causa

Headshot of President Helen Drinan

Helen G. Drinan is President Emerita of Simmons University. She served as the university’s first alumna president from 2008 to 2020, leading Simmons to a position of strategic, academic and financial strength. 

Her legacy includes leadership in the delivery of online graduate professional education that resulted in a dramatic increase in enrollment and a near doubling of revenue over the period of her service. This experience positioned Simmons to develop a full-fledged virtual strategy. In addition, under her direction, the undergraduate curriculum was reinvented, and the academic delivery process redesigned to include four cross-disciplinary colleges organized under Simmons’s newly designated university status. 

Throughout her tenure at Simmons, President Emerita Drinan advocated on behalf of girls’ and women’s education and empowerment. She launched the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership to ensure the continuity of the university’s contributions to this important work. In response to nationwide issues of race, religion, socioeconomic status and gender, President Emerita Drinan created the Office of Culture, Inclusion and Equity (OCIE).

Drinan is an undergraduate alumna of Mount Holyoke College and holds degrees from the Simmons School of Library and Information Science and the Simmons School of Business.

Paul Farmer, MD, PhD

Doctor of Human Rights, Honoris Causa

Headshot of Paul Farmer

Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer has dedicated his life to improving health care for the world’s poorest people. He is a founding director of Partners In Health (PIH), an international non-profit organization that since 1987 has provided direct health care services and undertaken research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. Over the past twenty-five years, PIH has expanded operations to twelve sites throughout Haiti and ten additional countries around the globe. The work has become a model for health care for poor communities worldwide.

Dr. Farmer holds an M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he is the Kolokotrones University Professor and the Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston. 

Dr. Farmer has written extensively on health, human rights, and the consequences of social inequality. His most recent book is Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History. Dr. Farmer is the recipient of numerous honors and is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Suzyn Waldman ’68

Doctor of Journalism, Honoris Causa

Headshot of Suzyn Waldman

Suzyn Waldman is an award-winning journalist and color commentator who has spent the past three decades overcoming the obstacles that go along with being a female sports broadcaster – rising to the very top of her profession.

Her career has been a series of firsts. In 1987, Waldman became the first voice ever heard on WFAN Radio. She created the job of radio beat reporter, covering the New York Yankees and the New York Knicks. The first woman ever to work on a nationally televised baseball broadcast for the Baseball Network, Waldman was also the first woman to provide play by play for a major league team in the nineties. 

In 2005 Waldman became the first woman to provide color commentary in the radio booth for a major league sports team, joining John Sterling, the voice of the Yankees, first on WCBS-AM and later on WFAN.

Waldman was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2016, and she has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her contributions as a role model and pioneer in women’s broadcasting. A native Bostonian with a degree in Economics from Simmons, Waldman also spent 15 years on the Broadway musical stage.