Marian Wright Edelman to speak at commencement

By Angela Whited

Marian Wright Edelman,
founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) will
receive an honorary degree and speak at this year’s commencement
ceremony. Edelman is the recipient of multiple awards including the
Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, a MacArthur
Foundation Prize Fellowship and the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
the highest civilian award in the nation.

A graduate of Spelman
College and Yale Law School, Edelman’s list of accomplishments is
far from brief. In the mid ‘60s she became the first black woman
to be accepted to the Mississippi state bar association when she
directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in
Jackson, Miss. She served as counsel for the Poor People’s campaign
in 1968, which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began organizing before his
death. She began the CDF, in
1973, after having created its parent organization, the Washington
Research Project. Prior to the creation of CDF she served two years
as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard
University.

Edelman chaired the
board of trustees at Spelman College from 1976 to 1987 and was the
first woman elected by alumni as a

member of the Yale
University Corporation. Her body of writing, which includes eight
books dealing with children, mentors, and making a difference, has
received the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award.

According to their
website and material sent from her office, the stated mission of the
CDF is to “Leave No Child Behind and to ensure every child a
Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral
Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of
caring families and communities.”
The honorary degree
Edelman receives from Macalester will not be her first. According to
a biography sent by her office, she has received over 100 throughout
her career.

Each year the honorary
degree committee chaired by the provost and comprised of two faculty
members, one staff member, two students, the Director of College
Relations and the Director of Alumni Relations solicits nominations
from the Macalester community for potential honorary degree
candidates.

“The degrees are
intended to honor outstanding alumni, friends of the college, and
those who have made significant contributions to scholarship, public
service, the creative arts, or other fields of endeavor,” Provost
Diane Michelfelder said. “[The pool of candidates] usually has
about 25 names.”
Michelfelder said the
invitation to Edelman was extended last February.

“Often one of the
approved honorary degree recipients will be selected as Commencement
speaker,” Rosenberg said, though he did clarify that this is not
always the case. “Others in the community also have the option of
sending recommendations for Commencement speaker to me at any time.”
This was the case last
year when CNN newscaster Aaron Brown spoke, but was not awarded a
degree. Brown’s recommendation came from a source other than the
honorary degree committee, Michelfelder said.

Usually two or three
degrees are awarded in a given year, Michelfelder said. Francis M.

Deng, the former United Nations ambassador who spoke at the
international roundtable this past fall has been the only other
honorary degree recipient this year.

The committee sorts
through these nominees and forwards their recommendations to the
college president. He then presents the committees selections to the
faculty for a vote and to the board of trustees for final approval.

Once this is
accomplished, Michelfelder says, “The President would then invite a
candidate to campus to receive the degree, usually at commencement.”

“Certainly we are
honored that Ms. Edelman is able to speak at Mac this spring,”
President Rosenberg said.