PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons will deliver the 2012 Baccalaureate address at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 26 in the First Baptist Meeting House.
Simmons, the University’s 18th president, announced last fall that she would conclude her term as president at the end of the current academic year. She will be presiding over her 11th and final Commencement.
Because the graduating class will fill the Meeting House to capacity for Simmons’s address on Saturday, the Baccalaureate service will be simulcast to the College Green, where family and friends of the graduates may view the proceedings on a large-format video display.
In her years at Brown, Simmons has reinvigorated the University with a 20-percent increase in the faculty, vastly improved resources for student financial aid, new academic initiatives, improved facilities and support for research, broader and deeper international academic relationships, and extensive redevelopment of the University’s historic College Hill campus. She also led the University through some of the most difficult economic times since the 1930s and, with careful planning and significant donor support, followed through on important construction projects, including a new home for the Alpert Medical School, the Granoff Center for Creative Arts, the Nelson Fitness Center, the Moran Coleman Aquatic Center, the Robert Campus Center, and others.
Simmons also holds a faculty appointment as professor of comparative literature and Africana studies at Brown. She graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and completed her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures at Harvard. She served in various administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College before becoming president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. At Smith, she launched a number of initiatives including an engineering program, the first at an American women’s college.
Simmons is the recipient of many honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship, the 2001 President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2004 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the 2010 Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the 2010 Foreign Policy Association award. She has been a featured speaker in many public venues, including the White House, the World Economic Forum, the National Press Club, the American Council on Education, and the Phi Beta Kappa Lecture at Harvard University. She is a member of the board of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, an honorary fellow of Selwyn College at Cambridge University, and a member of the board of Texas Instruments. In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
The Baccalaureate Service
The Baccalaureate Service, with roots in medieval academic tradition, honors the achievements of the candidates for the bachelor’s (“bacca”) degree by presenting them with the laurels (“lauri”) of oration. Brown’s baccalaureate tradition derives from the immense range of religious, ethnic, geographic, linguistic, and musical traditions present within the campus community. The ceremony includes rituals, readings, and prayers from Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and animist traditions, as well as choral and instrumental music, the Chinese lion dance, poetry, dance, and Taiko and Senegalese drumming.
The service is conducted in the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America, completed in 1775 “for the Publick Worship of Almighty God, and also for holding Commencement in.” Significant portions of the University’s Commencement ceremonies have been held in the church ever since.
Past speakers have included human rights crusader Kenneth Roth; international correspondent David Rohde; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; foreign policy commentator Fareed Zakaria; Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad; and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.