Commencement 2011: A time to celebrate, honor, remember

150th Commencement begins 8:30 a.m. May 20 in Brookings Quadrangle

Friday marks a new beginning for members of the Class of 2011.

Graduates leave Washington University in St. Louis this week to begin careers as actuaries and actors, social workers and psychologists. Others will serve their communities through volunteering or teaching. Still others will continue their educations in their chosen fields or simply search for their place in the world.

Whatever the pursuit, all graduates can depart knowing that their contribution to the university community — whether it is as momentous as a breakthrough discovery in the lab or as simple as a friendly hug for an uncertain friend after class — has left a lasting mark.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton will confer degrees at the 150th Commencement ceremony, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday, May 20, in Brookings Quadrangle on the Danforth Campus. The 2,719 candidates will receive 2,843 degrees, of which 1,363 are undergraduate and 1,480 are graduate and professional.

There are 598 doctoral candidates, comprising 85 for the doctor of philosophy degree from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, 304 for the juris doctoris degree from the School of Law, two for the doctor of science degree from the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and 207 for degrees from the School of Medicine.

In the event of rain, Commencement still will take place in the Quad.

If threatening weather endangers safety, the violent weather plan would be activated by 7 a.m. on the day of Commencement, Friday, May 20. If the plan is activated, the announcement will be posted on the university’s home page,, sent via a university-wide email, and publicized by local media.

Under the plan, the ceremony for undergraduates will take place in the Athletic Complex, and graduate and professional degree candidates will receive their diplomas at their schools’ scheduled Commencement receptions and recognition ceremonies. For more information about the violent weather plan, visit

Streaming video of the ceremony in the Quad will be broadcast online at The webcast also can be viewed in Room 100 (wheelchair accessible) and Room 118 of Brown Hall and Room 110 of January Hall.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and human rights activist, will deliver the Commencement address.

Wiesel, a Nobel laureate, will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from WUSTL during the ceremony.

Wiesel has worked on behalf of oppressed people for much of his adult life. His personal experience of the Holocaust has led him to use his talents as an author, teacher and storyteller to defend human rights and peace throughout the world.

Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, which now is part of Romania. He was 15 years old when the Nazis deported him and his family to Auschwitz.

His mother and younger sister perished; his two older sisters survived. Elie and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945.

After the war, Wiesel studied in Paris and later became a journalist. During an interview with the distinguished French writer Francois Mauriac, Wiesel was persuaded to write about his experiences in the death camps.

The result was his internationally acclaimed memoir, Night (La Nuit), which has since been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold millions of copies since its 1958 publication.

Soon after he won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, he and his wife, Marion, created The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice. He is president of the foundation.

Teaching has always been central to Wiesel’s work. Since 1976, he has been the Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, where he also holds the title of University Professor. He is a member of the faculty in the Department of Religion as well as the Department of Philosophy.

Wiesel is the author of more than 50 books of fiction and nonfiction, including his most recent, The Sonderberg Case (2010). He also has written plays, essays and short stories.

For his literary and human rights activities, he has received numerous awards, including the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in 1985, the Medal of Liberty in 1986, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and the 2009 National Humanities Medal in February 2010.

Also at Commencement, honorary degrees will be awarded to:

  • John H. Biggs, PhD, former CEO of TIAA-CREF and former vice chancellor for administration and finance at Washington University, doctor of humane letters;
  • Shirley Ann Jackson, PhD, the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., the oldest technological university in the United States, doctor of science;
  • Griffin P. Rodgers, MD, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, doctor of science; and
  • George W. von Mallinckrodt, KBE, president of Schroders plc, a global asset management company, doctor of laws.

Commencement will begin with the traditional academic procession into the Quad, which will be led by grand marshal Robert E. Wiltenburg, PhD, dean of University College in Arts & Sciences, and then by honorary grand marshal Barbara Geller, MD.

Geller is professor emerita of child psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Geller has been one of the Department of Psychiatry’s leading investigators, educators and clinicians since her arrival in 1991. She is internationally recognized for her research on childhood bipolar disorders.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1960 from Barnard College at Columbia University and a medical degree in 1964 from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in New York City. She completed a residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University-Bellevue Medical Center.

Geller was principal investigator on pioneering studies involving clinical identification, longitudinal follow-up, family psychopathology and pharmacological treatment of manic and depressive disorders in children age 6 or older.

She also was the recipient of the first National Institutes of Health research grant award to study mania in childhood, the “Phenomenology and Course of Pediatric Bipolar Disorders” study, and she was lead investigator on the national project “Treatment of Early Age Mania,” the first large-scale, federally funded pharmacological treatment study of childhood mania.

Geller also pioneered pharmacokinetic studies of antidepressants in children and adolescents as well as pharmacological studies of lithium for child bipolar depression and of lithium for substance-dependent bipolar teenagers.

More than 100 researchers from numerous universities worldwide came to Geller’s laboratory to train in research methods for diagnosing mania in childhood.

She served on or chaired more than 55 federal advisory committees, and she published more than 130 articles on childhood manic-depressive disorders.

Among her awards are the Nathan Cummings Special Research Award from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Outstanding Scientist Award from NAMI St. Louis. She is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. She lives in University City, Mo.

Also at Commencement, approximately 75 alumni from the Class of 1961, celebrating their 50th reunion, will march in the opening procession.

For the 31st consecutive Commencement, the program will begin with music by The Mighty Mississippi Concert Band of St. Louis, under the direction of Dan Presgrave, music director/conductor of the Washington University Symphony Orchestra, the Washington University Wind Ensemble and the St. Louis Wind Symphony.

Caetlyn M. Van Buren, who will receive a master of music degree from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, will sing “America the Beautiful.”

Keith Alexander Kiles, president of the senior class, will deliver the student Commencement greeting.

Conferral of academic degrees will follow, with the deans of each of the schools and Edward S. Macias, PhD, provost, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, assisting Wrighton.

After the conferral of degrees, Wrighton will deliver his message to the Class of 2011.

William Taylor Martin, who will receive a bachelor of arts degree from the College of Arts & Sciences, will conclude the ceremony by singing the “Alma Mater.”

Afterward, the university’s schools will hold receptions for graduates and their guests.