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Native American author Louise Erdrich '76 to give Dartmouth's 2009 Commencement address Sunday, June 14

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 04/23/09 • Media Contact: Roland Adams (603) 646-3661

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Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich (credit: Paul Emmel Photography)

Louise Erdrich, a 1976 graduate of Dartmouth who has won acclaim as a writer in multiple genres — most recently she was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Plague of Doves — will deliver the main address at the College’s 2009 Commencement exercises on Sunday morning, June 14, on the Dartmouth Green. She is one of seven individuals who will receive honorary degrees at the event.

Also speaking will be Dartmouth President James Wright and the valedictorian of the undergraduate senior class, who is announced the week of commencement after final grades are calculated.

This will be Wright’s 11th and last Dartmouth commencement appearance as the institution’s president. A member of the Dartmouth faculty since 1969 and President of Dartmouth since 1998, he announced last year that he would step down from that position at the end of Dartmouth’s current academic year June 30. The College announced in March that Dr. Jim Yong Kim, Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, will become the 17th President of Dartmouth on July 1.

The College typically awards approximately 1,000 bachelor's degrees and approximately 500 master's and doctoral degrees in the Arts and Sciences and from the College's three professional schools: Dartmouth Medical School, the Thayer School of Engineering and the Tuck School of Business.

The academic procession to the Green begins at 9:30 a.m., and visitors are advised to be in their seats by that time. Commencement ceremonies begin at 10 a.m.

Selection of Louise Erdrich '76 as this year's Commencement speaker

The daughter of a Native American (Ojibwe and French) mother and a German American father, Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota and came to Dartmouth as a member of the College’s first class to include women. Since then she has built a career as a novelist, poet and author of children’s books, authoring 14 books that have become bestsellers or won awards — including the O. Henry Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Heartland Prize for Fiction. She was twice nominated for a National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. One of her four daughters, Aza, is a member of the Dartmouth Class of 2011.

“Louise Erdrich is one of the outstanding American writers today and one who creatively shares the complexity and richness of the Native American experience, and indeed the history of all in the eastern Great Plains,” said President Wright, himself a historian whose academic specialization is American political history, particularly that of the western United States.

Wright added, “Louise is also someone who understands well what we call ‘the Dartmouth Experience’. A member of the first coeducational class at Dartmouth, she was among the Native students who came here after John Kemeny [the 13th President of Dartmouth] and the Board of Trustees formally rededicated part of Dartmouth’s mission to be education of Native Americans — the primary purpose for which the College was founded in 1769.”

Today Dartmouth has approximately 160 Native undergraduates representing tribes from all over the country, as well as a Native American Program to support them and a Native American Studies academic program. The 2009 senior class includes 33 Native American students.

“I am delighted that Louise has accepted my invitation to be our Commencement speaker this final time I have the privilege of extending such an invitation,” Wright said. “She represents and symbolizes well the best of our heritage and the contributions of our graduates. And I am delighted with the accomplishments and the range of all of our honorees. This is an impressive group – inspiring not only to the graduates but to all of us.”

2009 Honorary Degree Awards

At Commencement, Dartmouth will confer honorary degrees on:

  • John P. Abizaid (Doctor of Laws)
    U.S. Army Gen. (Ret.)

    Following graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1973, Abizaid rose from infantry platoon leader to become the youngest four-star general in the Army, the most senior U.S. military officer of direct Arab descent and the longest-serving commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), overseeing American military operations in a 27-country region from Africa to Asia from 2003-07. He subsequently became the first Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He was a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth during the fall 2008 term.

  • Roz Chast (Doctor of Arts)
    Cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine

    Chast has contributed more than 1,000 cartoons and several covers to The New Yorker magazine since she began illustrating for the publication in 1978. In addition she has provided cartoons and editorial illustrations for almost 50 other magazines and journals, from Mother Jones to Town & Country. She has also published several cartoon collections and illustrated children's books, and has designed CD covers, book jackets, and theater posters. In her cartoons, she addresses a range of everyday anxieties: guilt, aging, families, friends, money and real estate among others. She too was a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth during the fall 2008 term.

  • Louise Erdrich(Doctor of Letters)
    See background above

  • Dr. Raymond B. Johnson, M.D. '59 (Doctor of Science)
    Former Commanding Officer, Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland (retired)
    Former Senior Associate Director of Clinical Research, Pfizer, Inc.

    In 1982 Johnson became the first African American to be appointed Commanding Officer of the Naval Regional Medical Center in Newport, R.I. A year later, he was the first African American named Commanding Officer of the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., a job he held until 1985. He subsequently joined Pfizer, Inc., as a clinical researcher, becoming extensively involved in the clinical development of the antibiotics azithromycin (Zithromax®) and trovafloxacin (Trovan®) and the use of these medicines in treatments for typhoid fever and sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D. (Doctor of Science)
    U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    A marine ecologist and environmental scientist who has studied marine ecosystems around the world and championed the importance of science and its relevance to policy making and human well-being, Lubchenco is the ninth chief administrator of NOAA. She is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the International Council for Science and the Ecological Society of America. She has also provided scientific input to multiple U.S. Administrations and Congress on climate, fisheries, marine ecosystems, and biodiversity, including 10 years of service on the National Science Board (the board of directors for the National Science Foundation).

  • Maria Otero (Doctor of Humane Letters)
    President and CEO of Accion International

    A leading voice on sustainable “microfinance” — funding of small businesses and use of other market mechanisms to help the poor out of poverty — Otero has published extensively on the subject and speaks nationally and internationally about it. The organization she currently leads, ACCION, is a $50 million investment company that seeks to open the financial systems in developing countries to reach the poor through technical assistance, equity investment, governance and financial services. In 2005 Newsweek magazine designated her one of the 50 most influential women in the United States.

  • Bill Russell (Doctor of Humane Letters)
    Retired National Basketball Association star

    Considered one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the sport, William (Bill) Russell helped lead the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA championships in his 13-year career, including eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966. Later he became the first African American to coach in the NBA when he served a three-season stint as player-coach for the Celtics from 1966-69. A trailblazer recognized with the NBA's first Civil Rights Award, he has been called on by the NBA and the U.S. State Department to represent his profession and his country abroad. He has also been inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Dartmouth Prize for Exceptional Teaching: A Celebration of Outstanding Elementary and Secondary Education

Also on Commencement Sunday 2009, Dartmouth will present the third annual “Dartmouth Prizes for Exceptional Teaching: A Celebration of Outstanding Elementary and Secondary Education.” The College will present the awards to four K-12 teachers from around the country who were nominated by graduating Dartmouth seniors for their skills and the profound positive impact they have had on a great many lives, including those of the Dartmouth students who nominated them. This year’s winners are:

  • Dixon Britt
    Agricultural education teacher
    Purnell Swett High School, Pembroke, North Carolina
    Nominated by Amber Bullard
  • Mercedes Carbonell
    English teacher and three-sport coach
    Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
    Nominated by Karin Moyer, Ashley Hines and Kendall Reiley
  • Maya Roos
    Choral director and music teacher, grades 6-12
    Savannah Country Day School, Savannah, Georgia
    Nominated by Courtney Valentine
  • Ignatios Nat Teloniatis
    Chemistry and physics teacher
    Leaside High School, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    Nominated by Tiberiu Moga

Saturday, June 13: Speakers for Dartmouth professional schools' Class Day and Investiture ceremonies; and for Baccalaureate Service

A variety of ceremonies take place the day before Commencement, including Class Day and Investiture ceremonies for Dartmouth's three professional schools, and Baccalaureate, a multi-faith service open to all graduates and their guests. Those events, in chronological order, and their speakers are:

  • 9 a.m., Dartmouth Medical School, Maynard Street parking area. Speaker: Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
  • 10 a.m., Thayer School of Engineering, Spaulding Auditorium, Hopkins Center. Speaker: James J. Duderstadt, President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan.
  • 3 p.m., Tuck School of Business: Tuck Circle. (In case of rain, Thompson Arena, same time.) Speaker: Robert W. Lane, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Deere & Company.
  • Also 3 p.m., Baccalaureate, Rollins Chapel. (Remote viewing in 105 Dartmouth Hall.) Speaker: Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and Secretary for Health Care and Social Services in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Further information on commencement activities in general is available at

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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