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Willamette University Names Honorary Degree Recipients

Willamette University will recognize four prominent individuals with honorary degrees at the Sunday, May 16 commencement ceremony.

LeVar BurtonLeVar Burton, who will also serve as commencement speaker, has won 18 Emmy Awards for Reading Rainbow, a PBS children's literacy program he has hosted since 1983. Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a prolific writer and educator whose focus is African- American literature. Ann Rule, a former student at Willamette, is regarded by many as the foremost true crime writer in America. Willamette trustee William Webber has a long and distinguished philanthropic history.

In addition to his Emmy Awards, LeVar Burton has received four Fred Rogers Awards for excellence in children's educational media presented by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Reading Rainbow is among the most watched children's television series in American schools.

Reading Rainbow is also the cornerstone of local Ready to Learn services now carried by 148 local PBS member stations with a signal coverage serving more than 95 percent of the country. Ready to Learn provides educational children's television programs and ancillary materials for use by children, parents and educators.

As a literacy advocate, Burton also serves as national chairman of the PBS Kids Share a Story, a national literacy campaign that inspires adults to help millions of children develop language and literacy skills through storytelling, singing, reading and rhyming.

For older audiences, Burton is known for his role as sightless Lt. Geordi LaForge from the Star Trek series and for his 1977 role as Kunta Kinte in the television mini-series Roots. Burton studied drama at the University of Southern California. Burton will receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the most prominent academics in the country today, will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters. As chairman of the Afro-American Studies program at Harvard University, he has broadened the study of African-American literature with such works as "Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self," and "The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism."

Tomas Jaehn, curator for American and British history at Stanford University, says of Gates, "His work has widened the acceptance of African American Studies and has given it more recognition and respectability as a serious field of study. It should not come as a surprise that along with Gates' visibility, national interest in African American Studies has increased noticeably."

In addition to his current duties as department chair at Harvard, he also serves as director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Studies also at Harvard. In 1998, the Institute, under the direction of Gates, Kwame Appiah and Wole Soyinka and with funding from Microsoft, created "Encarta Africana," an interactive CD-ROM encyclopedia that captures Du Bois' dream of an encyclopedia that "would encompass the people, history and cultures of blacks throughout the world."

Gates fulfilled another dream in 1999 with the completion of a six-hour PBS documentary Wonders of the African World with Henry Louis Gates Jr. The series studies the ancient civilizations of 12 African countries.

Gates, educated at Yale and Cambridge University, is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Time and The New Republic. He has held appointments at Yale, Cornell and Duke.

Ann RuleAnn Rule was born in Michigan and was raised in a family with deep ties to the criminal justice system. She attended Willamette for two years before earning her bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Washington. After graduation, she became the youngest policewoman ever hired by the Seattle Police Department.

Twenty of Rule's books have been New York Times bestsellers, with "Every Breath You Take" and "Last Dance, Last Chance" listed simultaneously. Four books have been made into television movies and five more are in progress. She won the coveted Peabody Award for her miniseries, Small Sacrifices, and has two Anthony Awards from Bouchercon, the mystery fans' organization. She has been nominated three times for Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. She was also awarded the Washington State Governor's Award.

As a lecturer, she has addressed such prestigious organizations as the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., the American Academy of Forensic Psychiatrists and the National Academy of Medical Examiners.

She is on the U.S. Justice Department Task Force that set up the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, a computer tracking system now in place at FBI headquarters in Quantico that helps identify and trap serial killers.

Rule is active in support groups for victims of violent crimes and their families, in the YWCA program to help battered and abused women, and in Childhelp and Childhaven, support groups for children. She will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

William WebberTrustee and early Tektronix vice president William Webber will receive an honorary doctorate of public service degree.

Named vice president of Tektronix in 1954, he helped start and served as trustee and administrator of the Tektronix Foundation which, in 1953, was one of the first corporate giving foundations in the country. His history with the Foundation was the beginning of a lifetime of philanthropy.

Among his Willamette University philanthropic interests are the Webber scholars program, which provides scholarships for women majoring in biology, chemistry, environmental science and physics. He is also a long-term supporter of technology innovation, music, the Willamette Academy and athletics, specifically Willamette crew.

Three of his four children are Willamette graduates; two sons earned their degree from the College of Liberal Arts and a third son graduated from the Willamette University College of Law. Webber, who earned an engineering degree from Virginia Tech in 1934, has been a Willamette trustee since 1963.

Now retired, the Tigard resident has been active in such diverse groups as the Oregon Council of Economic Education, National Conference of Christians & Jews, Portland Junior Symphony, Willamette United Way and the Oregon Foundation of Medical Excellence.

04-08-2004