Dr. Earl Lewis, founder of the Center for Social Solutions at the University of Michigan and former president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, received an honorary degree then addressed the 258 members of the 146th graduating class of Berea College on Sunday, May 6.
Lewis referred to troubling the water from the old spiritual, “Wade in the Water,” to encourage the graduates to use their education to “confront society’s need for morally anchored, value-centered, leadership.” He noted that “Berea’s founding group of men and women, infused with a sense of justice and purpose . . . understood what it meant to trouble the waters for social progress.”
“You, the Class of 2018,” Lewis said, “are their heirs.”
He challenged each graduate to change the world responsibly.
“Fighting for social change is not an event or even series of events,” Lewis said. “Rather, it is an orientation, a belief that all have a role to play in fashioning the common good for the betterment of all.”
During the Commencement ceremony, outstanding students, staff, and faculty were presented the following awards:
- Sarah D. Nicely ’18 – Midwest Association of Student Employment Administrators, and Student Employment Supervisor of the Year for the State of Kentucky.
- Seth Reasoner ‘18 – T.J. Wood Achievement Award
- Susan Bonta ’18 – Hilda Welch Wood Achievement Award
- Yolanda Carter – Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service
- Bob Harned – Labor Supervisor of the Year
- Sandy Williams – Paul C. Hager Award for Excellence in Advising
- Megan Hoffman – Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching
Degrees were conferred posthumously to Enkhjin EnkhBold and Dzhoana Ivanova, members of the 2018 graduating class who died from a tragic accident during their senior year.
Lewis, a noted social historian, has held faculty appointments at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan, where he is professor of history and Afroamerican and African Studies. During his career he has championed the importance of diversifying the academy, enhancing graduate education, re-visioning the liberal arts, exploring the role of digital tools for learning and connecting universities to their communities. In 2013, Lewis became the sixth President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, reaffirming its commitment to the humanities, the arts and higher education by emphasizing the importance of continuity and change.
Demonstrating Berea College’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the senior class participated in a “Zero Waste” commencement by wearing graduation gowns made of 100 percent recycled plastic bottles. Each gown requires an average of 23 plastic bottles, so nearly 6,000 plastic bottles were diverted from landfills by this graduating class.