“Posse” Founder to Speak at Commencement

Deborah Bial, president and founder of the Posse Foundation

Deborah Bial, president and founder of the Posse Foundation, will give the 2014 commencement address at Mount Holyoke College.  She will also receive an honorary doctorate in humane letters during the College’s 177th commencement on Sunday, May 18.

Honorary degrees will also be presented to MHC alumnae Deborah Harkness ’86, Karen G. Jennings Lewis ’74, and Dr. Patricia A. Robertson ’72. Commencement ceremonies will begin at 10:30 am in the Gettell Amphitheater.

Twenty-five years ago, Deborah Bial saw that some high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential were being overlooked by the traditional college-selection process. To close that gap, she created the Posse Foundation, a youth leadership development and college access organization that sends teams (“posses”) of students from diverse backgrounds to selective colleges and universities. So far, more than 5,000 public high school students have received full-tuition scholarships from partner institutions—including Mount Holyoke—and become successful college students.

Bial’s selection as this year’s commencement speaker is particularly appropriate, since Mount Holyoke’s first Posse Scholars graduate this May.

Deborah Harkness ’86 will receive an honorary doctorate in humane letters. She teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Her scholarly work and her career as a best-selling fiction author both draw on her deep interest in the way people have used both science and magic to explain the world around them. Her academic work on sixteenth-century history led to two scholarly books on the period: John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. Then Harkness surprised herself by turning that same fascination with science and the occult into wildly popular novels, starting with A Discovery of Witches.

Karen G. Jennings Lewis ’74 will receive an honorary doctorate in humane letters. She has been president of the Chicago Teachers Union since 2010. She is the only national-board-certified teacher to lead an American labor union, and taught high school chemistry in the Chicago public schools for 22 years. As head of the 30,000-member union, she is an outspoken advocate for teachers and stands firmly against the privatization of public education. Lewis’s aim is as simple—and as complex—as improving Chicago’s public schools, where her own education began.

Dr. Patricia A. Robertson ’72 will receive an honorary doctor of science degree. She is a physician and professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at San Francisco. In addition to teaching and providing clinical care to patients for decades, she is a leader in educating the medical world about the unique health needs of lesbians. She has conducted research studies, found funding for others’ studies, and lobbied to make LGBT concerns part of future doctors’ training. And in 2010, she co-edited the first textbook ever published specifically about lesbian health, Lesbian Health 101: A Clinician’s Guide.

More information is available about Mount Holyoke’s commencement.