TACOMA, Wash. – Timothy Egan, a Pulitzer-prize winning writer about American life and distinguished commentator on major issues of the day, will be the Commencement Speaker at University of Puget Sound’s graduation of its Class of 2017.
The New York Times columnist and author of eight books will be awarded an honorary degree alongside two other honorands: attorney and civil rights leader Fred D. Gray and Nisqually Tribe Natural Resources Manager Georgiana Kautz
“It is a great honor to recognize these exceptional individuals who, through their work and their devotion to fairness and social justice, have changed the course of history and the course of many lives,” said Puget Sound President Isiaah Crawford. “With their fierce determination, their courage, and their keen intellects, they have made—and continue to make—enormous contributions to the benefit of our society as a whole. The paths they have pioneered and the faith they have shown in the ultimate goodness of human nature serve as inspiring models for us all. We welcome them and thank them deeply for joining our graduating Class of 2017.”
Egan will receive the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters; Gray will be named honorary Doctor of Laws, and Kautz honorary Doctor of Science. The honorary degree is the highest distinction bestowed by the university.
In addition Puget Sound will pay special tribute to Elizabeth Ann Breysse ’17, who passed away last year. Breysse was a bright star among her student, faculty, and staff colleagues, and her friends on campus, and will be remembered for her academic contributions, life in Pi Beta Phi, love of music and sports, and more. An honorary bachelor's degree will be conferred and awarded posthumously to Breysse and will be presented to her family at the ceremony.
Puget Sound’s 125th Commencement Ceremony will be held in Baker Stadium on Sunday, May 14, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. The event is open to the public, as well as to campus members, friends, and families. A link to a map of campus is below. Here is more about the 2017 honorands:
Timothy Egan is a New York Times opinion columnist and author who has won numerous prizes for his perceptive writing and revealing investigations of American life. His columns cast an often ironic perspective on national events, making the deeply serious deeply personal; his books broaden readers’ understanding of who we are and who we are becoming. Previously a correspondent for The New York Times, Egan shared a Pulitzer Prize with the team of reporters who produced the series “How Race is Lived in America.” The most recent of his eight books, The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, is a New York Times bestseller. An earlier book about the Dust Bowl that ravaged American farms in the 1930s, The Worst Hard Time, won the 2006 National Book Award, one of the nation’s highest literary honors. Egan subsequently appeared as the featured historian in the Ken Burn’s documentary film The Dust Bowl (2012). He also created a bestseller with the book Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, which portrayed the life and photographs of Edward Curtis, who dedicated his career to capturing the lives of Native Americans on film. The book won the 2012 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and The Chautauqua Prize, awarded by the arts and culture nonprofit, the Chautauqua Institution. Egan, a Seattle resident, is a third-generation Westerner of Irish descent and a graduate of the University of Washington. Interviewed by The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y., in 2012, Egan described his early life in Spokane, Wash., as one where trips to the book mobile were a regular family event. Reading history books and falling in love with storytelling, Egan said, convinced him that “There’s no such thing as boring history, just boringly told history.”
Fred D. Gray
Fred David Gray’s exemplary legal career of more than 60 years includes winning landmark court cases that helped shape this country and representing key figures in the Civil Rights Movement. The recipient of numerous legal and civil rights awards, Gray handled the Rosa Parks v. City of Montgomery case and other cases that ultimately led to the Supreme Court condemning bus segregation in 1956. He successfully represented civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1960 action brought by the State of Alabama and won an acquittal from an all-white jury. Other cases that he argued laid the foundation for the concept of “one man one vote;” protected Selma-to-Montgomery marchers seeking fair voting rights, following the earlier horrors of Bloody Sunday; and racially integrated all state colleges and universities and more than 100 public school systems in Alabama. Gray also was counsel in actions to protect the rights of African American men who were involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study of 1932–1972. He was one of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since Reconstruction and was the first to be elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association (2002–03). He also has served as president of the National Bar Association. Gray is the senior partner in the law firm Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray, Gray & Nathanson in Alabama. His works as an author include his autobiography, Bus Ride to Justice, and The Tuskegee Syphilis Study. He is the principal founder of the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, a history museum that aims to educate the public about contributions made by Native Americans and Americans of African and European descent in Alabama.
Georgiana Kautz is known as a champion for salmon recovery and fish habitat protection in Puget Sound, and an advocate for the Nisqually tribe’s rights to fish, hunt, gather, and maintain their culture along the river that bears their name. As Nisqually natural resources manager for the past 26 years, she has been at the forefront of historical legal battles and, together with Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Pierce County, she has helped foster model partnerships with landowners on the river’s watershed. Kautz and her staff have navigated the conflicting interests of tribes, those who fish for a living, and state, national, and international interests to negotiate fish catch limits. Over the years her office also led the most ambitious estuary restoration process seen in the Pacific Northwest, including 410 acres at the Nisqually estuary and 750 acres in the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Born into a family with 11 children and raised in a two-room house with no electricity or running water, Kautz grew up watching her parents struggle to make a living by fishing for salmon. As a young woman she joined in civil disobedience actions to press for Nisqually treaty fishing rights and ultimately saw the triumph of the 1974 Boldt Decision, which validated those rights and gave the tribe co-management, alongside the state, of the fisheries. Kautz has been an ambassador for conservation, carrying her message to the public through forums ranging from the press to local schools. Under her leadership, partners up and down the Nisqually River have increased the land in conservation stewardship from just 5 percent in 1990 to more than 75 percent today. Kautz attributes these successes to the respectful consultations that take place among the many groups who use the river estuary.
For more about Commencement Weekend: pugetsound.edu/commencement
For directions and a map of the University of Puget Sound campus: pugetsound.edu/directions
For accessibility information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 253.879.3931, or visit pugetsound.edu/accessibility.
Press photos of the Commencement speaker and honorands can be downloaded from pugetsound.edu/pressphotos.
Photos on page: Honorands are pictured by their bios. Top right: A parent of a graduating student at the 2016 ceremony (photo by Ross Mulhausen)
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