Congratulations to the Class of 2016

More than 3,000 degrees will be conferred at Commencement

Commencement scene
More than 2,900 undergraduate, graduate and professional students will receive degrees during Washington University’s 155th Commencement ceremony Friday, May 20, in Brookings Quadrangle. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

This morning, more than 2,900 Washington University in St. Louis undergraduate, graduate and professional students will enter Brookings Quadrangle as degree candidates and leave as graduates after Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton confers their degrees.

The Class of 2016 will be surrounded by more than 12,000 family members, friends, faculty, staff, administrators, university trustees and members of the Class of 1966 — many of whom have traveled thousands of miles — to celebrate their achievement.

In addition to hearing words of inspiration from Wrighton, the senior class president and a graduate student speaker, the graduating students will hear an address from a civil rights pioneer, U.S. Congressman John R. Lewis.

The 2,970 candidates at Washington University’s 155th Commencement will receive 3,117 degrees, of which 1,547 are undergraduate and 1,570 are graduate and professional.

There are 509 doctoral candidates, including 111 for the doctor of philosophy degree from The Graduate School; one for the doctor of business administration degree from the Olin Business School; 214 for the juris doctoris degree from the School of Law; two for the juris scientiae doctoris degree from the School of Law; and 181 for degrees from the School of Medicine.

Some of the graduating students have been showcased through stories, images and videos throughout the year. Visit 2016 Class Acts to see a sampling of our undergraduate, graduate and professional students who are changing the world through research, service and innovation.

Commencement will take place in the Quad rain or shine. However, if threatening weather endangers safety, the severe weather plan would be activated by 7 a.m.

Under the plan, the all-university Commencement ceremony in Brookings Quadrangle would be canceled. A ceremony for undergraduates only would be held starting at 8:30 a.m. in the Athletics Complex.

For graduate and professional degree candidates, graduation ceremonies would be held at their schools’ regularly scheduled Commencement receptions and recognition ceremonies in the afternoon.

If the plan is activated, it will be announced on the university’s home page,, in a universitywide email, and by local media.

Streaming video of the ceremony in the Quad will be broadcast online. The webcast also can be viewed in Brown Hall, rooms 100 and 118, Busch Hall, Room 100, and January Hall, Room 110. All rooms are wheelchair accessible. For building locations, visit the Danforth Campus map.

Speaker, honorary degree recipients

John R. Lewis

Lewis, who will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the university, is considered one of the most courageous and influential leaders in the civil rights movement.

He has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building “The Beloved Community” of justice and equality that his mentor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned.

Lewis became known as one of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the historic 1963 March on Washington. He was the youngest keynote speaker at the march, which is credited with helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and he is the only surviving member of the “Big Six.”

For more on Lewis, who has served as U.S. representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for 30 years, visit the Washington University Source.

Honorary degrees will also be awarded to:

  • Stephen F. Brauer, chairman and CEO of Hunter Engineering Co. and a former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, doctor of laws;
  • Paula Kerger, president and chief executive officer of PBS, the nation’s largest noncommercial media organization with 350 member stations throughout the country, doctor of humane letters;
  • Staffan Normark, MD, Swedish physician, microbiologist and infectious disease researcher and member of two of the organizations that help select Nobel laureates, doctor of humanities; and
  • Euclid Williamson, founder of Target H.O.P.E., a nationally acclaimed academic achievement and high school retention model for Chicago area schools, doctor of humanities.

Commencement will begin with the traditional academic procession into the Quad, which will be led by grand marshal John N. Drobak, the George Alexander Madill Professor of Real Property & Equity Jurisprudence in the School of Law and professor of economics in Arts & Sciences, who is chair of the Commencement Committee.

Wayne Fields, honorary grand marshal

Wayne Fields

Also leading the procession into the Quad will be the honorary grand marshal, Wayne Fields, the Lynne Cooper Harvey Chair Emeritus in English and professor of English in Arts & Sciences.

Since joining the faculty of Arts & Sciences — as an instructor, in 1968 — he has been an influential teacher and held a series of key leadership appointments.

From 1987-1992, he served as acting chair and then chair of the Department of English. He was director of the Master of Liberal Arts program from 1986-1992 and dean of University College in Arts & Sciences from 1992-96.

In 1996, Fields became founding director of the American Culture Studies program, which he led until 2008. He served as founding director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics from 2010-11.

In 1999, he was named the inaugural Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor. From 2011-12, he served as part of the transitional leadership team for Arts & Sciences, following the death of his close friend Dean James E. McLeod.

A nationally known expert on American literature, rhetoric and nonfiction prose, Fields has written a memoir, “What the River Knows: An Angler in Midstream” (1990), a highly acclaimed nonfiction book about fly fishing, the mysteries of rivers and the uncertainties of life’s second half; and “The Past Leads a Life of Its Own” (1992), a collection of stories that capture a simpler life of growing up in the American heartland.

His book “Union of Words: A History of Presidential Eloquence” (1996) examined the use of rhetoric in presidential speeches, from declarations of candidacy to nomination acceptances, inaugural addresses, state-of-the-union speeches, declarations of war, executive farewells and other special addresses.

Over the years, Fields has served on numerous academic and advisory committees and received numerous teaching awards.

Traditions continue

Approximately 100 alumni from the Class of 1966, celebrating their 50th reunion, will march in the opening procession.

For the 36th consecutive Commencement, the program will begin with music by The Mighty Mississippi Concert Band of St. Louis, under the direction of Dan Presgrave, retired music director/conductor of the Washington University Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble.

Sasha J. Berger, a candidate for a bachelor of arts with a major in anthropology from the College of Arts & Sciences, will sing “America the Beautiful” to open the ceremony.

Elizabeth K. Drake, a candidate for a bachelor of arts with a major in psychological and brain sciences from the College of Arts & Sciences, will conclude the ceremony by singing the “Alma Mater.”

Christine Lung, president of the senior class, will deliver the undergraduate student Commencement greeting. Lung, from Boston, is a candidate for a bachelor of arts in economics from the College of Arts & Sciences with minors in chemistry from Arts & Sciences and in studio arts from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

And for the first time, a graduate student will give an address during the ceremony. Ashley Macrander, who is a candidate for a doctorate in education from The Graduate School, was selected to give the graduate student address.

The deans of each of the schools and Provost Holden Thorp will assist Wrighton in the conferral of academic degrees. After the conferral of degrees, Wrighton will deliver his message to the Class of 2016.

After the ceremony, individual schools will hold recognition and award ceremonies, diploma distribution and receptions. Visit the Commencement website for locations.

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