More than 500 graduates and their families will be inspired when Soledad O’Brien addresses the Spelman College Class of 2014 at Commencement and receives an honorary degree on May 18 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Dr. Wanda Austin, an internationally-known systems engineer and president and CEO of Aerospace Corporation, will also receive an honorary degree for her leadership in the sciences and commitment to building the pipeline of scientists of color. Human rights lawyer and activist Malika Saada Saar will receive the National Community Service Award.
“Soledad O’Brien, Dr. Wanda Austin and Malika Saada Saar all personify the academic excellence and the commitment to social change that has come to be associated with Spelman College — much like our Baccalaureate speaker Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, whose scholarship, theology, and public service as senior pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church are informed by a deep sense of spirituality, faith, and social justice,” said President Beverly Daniel Tatum. “We are excited to host each of these distinguished leaders as we celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates.”
O’Brien, special correspondent for Al Jazeera America and contributor to “Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel,” is CEO of Starfish Media Group, a multi-platform media production and distribution company, dedicated to uncovering and producing empowering stories that take a challenging look at the often divisive issues of race, class, wealth, poverty and opportunity, through personal stories. She and her husband, Brad Raymond, also started the Starfish Foundation to help young women achieve their higher education goals. This year, mentee and Starfish Foundation award recipient, Tyreiron Segue, C’2014, will graduate from Spelman College — marking a special moment at commencement where both she and O’Brien, will earn degrees on the same day.
Well known for her “Black in America” and “Latino in America” series developed during her tenure at CNN, O’Brien won her first Emmy in 2011 for “Crisis in Haiti” on Andersen Cooper 360 and was part of the CNN team that received a George Peabody Award for Hurricane Katrina and BP oil spill coverage. O’Brien is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She is a graduate of Harvard University.
Dr. Wanda Austin, Honorary Degree Recipient
Dr. Wanda M. Austin is president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation. Based in El Segundo, Calif., Aerospace is a nonprofit corporation with almost 3,500 employees and annual revenues of more than $850 million. Aerospace operates a federally funded research and development center that provides technical guidance and advice on all aspects of space missions to military, civil, and commercial customers to assure space mission success.
Austin has been in her position since 2008. Previously, she was senior vice president of the company’s National Systems Group, which supports the national security space and intelligence community. Prior, Austin served as the company’s senior vice president of the Engineering and Technology Group. She is internationally recognized for her work in satellite and payload system acquisition, systems engineering and system simulation. Austin served on President Barack Obama’s Review of Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2009, and in 2010 was appointed to the Defense Science Board.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Franklin & Marshall College, master’s degrees in systems engineering and mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh, and a doctorate in systems engineering from the University of Southern California.
Malika Saada Saar, National Community Service Award
Malika Saada Saar is special counsel on human rights at The Raben Group and director of the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls),an organization focused on gender-based violence against young women and girls in the U.S. Saar led the effort to shut down Craigslist sex ads that served as the leading site for the trafficking of children for sex, ended the federal practice of shackling pregnant mothers behind bars in U.S. prisons, and successfully advocated for millions in federal funding for treatment services for at-risk families. Newsweek and the Daily Beast have named her as one of “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
The Obama White House selected Saar to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She also serves on the board of directors for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. Saar holds a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, a master’s degree in education from Stanford University, and a juris doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center.
Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor Ebenezer Baptist Church, Baccalaureate Speaker
The Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At age 35, he became the youngest senior pastor in the history of the congregation when he accepted the call to serve in 2005. Prior, he spent 10 years on the pastoral staff of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City and four and half years as senior pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church, where he was able to immerse himself in urban ministry rooted in a spiritual base of social activism.
Ebony magazine listed Warnock among its 30 Leaders of the Future, Atlanta Business League cited him among its “Up and Comers” and Concerned Black Clergy ranked him among “Top 25 Pastors in Metropolitan Atlanta.” He is an honors graduate of Morehouse College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, master’s degrees in divinity and philosophy, and a doctorate in systemic theology from Union Theological Seminary.
Baccalaureate service will be held on Saturday, May 17 at 9 a.m. on the Spelman Oval.
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About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a highly selective, liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, Ga., the College’s picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Outstanding alumnae include Children’s Defense Fund Founder Marian Wright Edelman; Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer, Broadway Producer Alia Jones, Former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman’s first alumna President Audrey Forbes Manley, Harvard University Professor Evelynn Hammonds, Author Pearl Cleage and Actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson. For more information, visit www.spelman.edu.