Willamette University Announces Its Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients

Willamette University announces its commencement speaker and honorary degree recipients for the commencement celebration on Sunday, May 13, 2001, at 3 p.m. in the Willamette University Quad.

This year's commencement speaker will be the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University. Willamette's two honorary degree recipients are Lillian Cingo, a highly recognized South African nurse, and Grace Paley, an award-winning author. Coffin will receive an honorary doctorate of divinity. Cingo will receive an honorary doctorate of public service, and Paley will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Coffin, an advocate for peace, civil rights and other social justice movements, has actively campaigned against racial segregation and America's military involvement in Vietnam. He was one of seven "freedom riders" arrested for protesting segregation laws in Montgomery, Ala. Coffin was also arrested for protesting the Vietnam War.

Coffin served as chaplain of Yale University for 18 years, as minister of Riverside Church in New York City and as president of SANE/FREEZE: Campaign for Global Security (Peace Action), the largest U.S. peace and justice organization. As president of SANE/FREEZE, he was widely acknowledged as a leading proponent of a new political thinking that recognizes the fundamental connections among peace, the environment and social justice. Coffin is also the author of four books, including a Passion for the Possible and his autobiography, Once to Every Man.

Cingo, a black South African who grew up on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, has won gold medals for being the best nurse in South Africa in 1956 and 1961. Cingo left South Africa 15 years after government sponsored apartheid regulations, a source of civil unrest, were imposed on its black citizens. She continued her nursing career in London where she was twice nominated as British Nurse of the Year in the 1970s and was presented to the queen as the best neurosurgical nurse in London. Upon Nelson Mandela's release from prison, Cingo returned to her homeland after 30 years living abroad. In 1994, she helped to begin the Phelophepa ("Good, Clean Health") Health Care Train in rural Africa. Today the train, which treats more than 40,000 patients annually, consists of 16 coaches with highly sophisticated health care equipment. Cingo transformed one of the coaches on the train into an apartment where she lives, manages the health care services and educates people on the importance of health care.

Willamette University Commencement Poetry and short fiction author, Paley has taught at Columbia and Syracuse Universities. She currently teaches at City College of New York, where she is writer-in-residence, and at Sarah Lawrence College, where she has taught creative writing and literature for 18 years. Paley has won several awards including the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit, a Guggenheim fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1987, Paley was awarded a Senior Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of her lifetime contribution to literature. In addition to Paley's numerous accolades, three of her short stories were made into a feature film released in the early 1980s titled "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute."

"Willamette's commencement speaker and honorary degree candidates embody a lifelong commitment to service, philanthropic leadership and distinguished reputations in international academics and education," said Willamette President M. Lee Pelton. "Our graduating students should be inspired with these exceptional leaders and their extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to the world."