Dear Tulane Community,
Commencements are not only meant to celebrate and congratulate. They are also meant to inspire and to encourage our graduates to lead truly purpose-driven lives dedicated to improving the human condition. With this in mind, we will award honorary degrees at Commencement 2017 to four exemplary individuals who have helped reshape our world and now beckon our graduates to do the same.
The most recognizable of these individuals is our keynote speaker, Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, a woman as well known for her acclaimed acting on stage, in film and on television as she is for her philanthropic work on behalf of disadvantaged youth, orphaned children, the sexually exploited and other vulnerable populations.
We will also honor Branford Marsalis, the New Orleans-born musical scion and saxophone virtuoso who has garnered three Grammy Awards and designation as a Master of Jazz by the National Endowment for the Arts. He has performed with musicians spanning every era and genre, including the Grateful Dead, Sting and Herbie Hancock. He has also served as bandleader for "The Tonight Show." New Orleanians will remember Marsalis for his pivotal role in creating Musicians' Village, which provided more than 80 homes to bring back local musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The Village is centered around the Ellis Marsalis Center, which provides music lessons, help with homework and computer training for more than 200 children a week, along with a magnificent concert and recording hall for musicians.
Diane Nash, another honorary degree recipient, is a leader and legend of the civil rights movement. She co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) with U.S. Rep. John Lewis and others and served as a central organizer of everything from the Nashville sit-ins to the Freedom Rides to the protests in Birmingham and Selma. During the 1961 Freedom Rides, black and white activists traveled in buses from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans to challenge segregated seating. They were met with violence across the South, and Nash herself was imprisoned for 30 days while pregnant with her first child. Once met with violence and antipathy, Nash will now be welcomed as a hero who changed our country and world for the better.
We will also present an honorary degree to Dr. Shelley Taylor, one of the world's most eminent social psychologists. She is co-founder of the field of Health Psychology, which focuses on how psychological, behavioral and cultural factors can both contribute to physical health and lead to illness. A groundbreaking scientist and award-winning author, Taylor has helped prove the enormous power of emotions on our physical health.
Each of these honorees continues to impact our society and improve the lives of others. Now is the time for our graduates to blaze their own trails guided by the light of these who went before them.