Civil rights activist John Lewis to give undergraduate commencement address

President Barack Obama awards the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Congressman John Lewis in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 15, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Rep. John Lewis, the U.S. representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district, will address Framingham State’s undergraduate class of 2019 during the May 26 commencement. 

Lewis is a renowned figure from the U.S. civil rights movement, having worked with other prominent leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael. He was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and is known as one of the “Big Six” leaders of the movement.

In 2010, Lewis was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.

FSU President F. Javier Cevallos notified the campus community via email on Feb. 27, saying he was “thrilled” to give the news.

Cevallos said in the email, “Statistics show that incidents of hate are on the rise nationwide and, as you all know, our campus has not been immune to this disturbing trend. I can think of no one more qualified to bring a message of peaceful resistance, inspiration, and hope to our graduates.”

Both Cevallos and Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Lewis history and prominence in the civil rights movement make him an appropriate speaker choice. 

In the wake of the recent string of racial hate crimes on campus, administrators believe Lewis address will provide a positive message for the FSU community. 

Lewis will also receive an honorary doctoral degree for public service during the ceremony.

According to Vaden-Goad, education professor emerita Diane Lowe will be delivering the graduate commencement speech. 

Vaden-Goad is the chair of the Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee, which elects the speakers for the ceremony in May. She said she is “delighted” to have served on it for the past nine years.

She said of the selection process, “We work by a set of bylaws that establishes the membership on the Commencement Speakers Committee. The full committee begins to meet as soon as the graduating class officers are selected by the students.”

She added the committee includes the student officers of the class of 2019, Pamela Edrehi of the FSU Alumni Association, and Director of Communications Dan Magazu, as well as faculty and staff on different governance and advisory committees.

Magazu said, “It’s a nice mix of folks across campus.”

Vaden-Goad said, “We work for most of the year, first discussing themes that are especially meaningful to this class, nominating possible speakers, surveying the graduating student body – this is done by the students – discussing the outcomes, and ranking the top five.”

The next steps, she added, are then making these recommendations to Cevallos and sending out invitations to the chosen speakers.

Cevallos wrote in the email, “I would like to thank members of our Commencement Speaker Advisory Committee for their work in selecting another outstanding speaker to provide our undergraduate commencement address.”

Vaden-Goad said, “The members of the committee take their work very seriously and I believe each year … we have selected top speakers that are good fits with our themes.

“Our students’ values and engagement drive the selections that are made, and I am so proud of our students here at FSU for their seriousness and commitment to building a better world.”

According to Vaden-Goad, the themes of this year’s class are “empowerment, social justice, and service to others.”

Cevallos said in a Feb. 27 FSU press release, “As a leader during the civil rights movement, and a voice for the vulnerable and oppressed during his more than 30 years in the House of Representatives, Congressman Lewis is a true inspiration to our students, faculty, and staff.” 

He added, “I can think of no one else more qualified to show our graduates what it means to live a life that is dedicated to doing good for others.”

Cevallos said in an email, “Congressman Lewis has dedicated his life to the fight for civil rights for all Americans. I’d strongly encourage any of our students who are unfamiliar with the Congressman’s life story to look him up. I think you will quickly see just what an honor it is for the University to host him.”