Class of 2017 poised to start a new chapter

Best-selling author Anna Quindlen to address 3,000-plus degree candidates at 156th Commencement

Washington University will award degrees to more than 3,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree candidates during its 156th Commencement May 19.

After years of hard work studying, researching and serving the community on campus and beyond, members of the Class of 2017 prepare to close the book on their time at Washington University in St. Louis and open a new chapter in their lives.

The more than 3,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree candidates will receive some fitting guidance for that process May 19 as best-selling author Anna Quindlen delivers this year’s Commencement address.

In addition to Quindlen, other speakers include Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, the senior class president and a graduate student speaker.

The 3,089 candidates at Washington University’s 156th Commencement will receive 3,245 degrees, of which 1,490 are undergraduate, 1,751 are graduate and professional, and four are associates in arts.

There are 600 doctoral candidates, including 132 for the doctor of philosophy degree from the Graduate School; one for the doctor of business administration degree from the Olin Business School; 242 for the juris doctoris degree from the School of Law; two for the juris scientiae doctoris degree from the School of Law; and 223 for degrees from the School of Medicine.

Some of the graduating students have been showcased through stories, images and videos throughout the year. Visit 2017 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 will be activated by 7 a.m.

Under the plan, the universitywide Commencement ceremony in Brookings Quadrangle will be canceled. If that happens, a ceremony for undergraduates only will be held starting at 8:30 a.m. in the Athletic Complex Field House.

The ceremonies for all graduate and professional degree candidates will be held at their schools’ individual recognition ceremonies.

If the plan is activated, it will be announced on the university’s home page,, in an email to the graduating students and on social media.

Streaming video of the ceremony will be broadcast on the Commencement website. A live televised broadcast of the ceremony also can be viewed at the following locations: Tisch Commons in the Danforth University Center; Edison Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Center; Brown Hall, Room 100; Busch Hall, Room 100, and January Hall, Room 110. All rooms are wheelchair accessible.

Speaker, honorary degree recipients

Anna Quindlen headshot

Quindlen, winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her nationally syndicated column “Public and Private,” will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the university.

With the 2000 publication of her nonfiction book “A Short Guide to A Happy Life,” which sold over a million copies, Quindlen became the first writer to have books appear on the fiction, nonfiction and self-help New York Times best-sellers lists.

Her memoir on aging, “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,” debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list in 2012.

She is also the author of eight novels, all best-sellers: “Object Lessons,” “One True Thing,” “Black and Blue,” “Blessings,” “Rise and Shine,” “Every Last One,” “Still Life With Bread Crumbs,” and, most recently, “Miller’s Valley.”

For more on Quindlen, visit the Washington University Source.

Honorary degrees also will be awarded to:

  • John W. Bachmann, a senior partner at Edward Jones who is credited with helping build the investment firm into one of America’s leading financial services institutions, doctor of laws;
  • The Rev. Gary G. Braun, director of the Catholic Student Center at Washington University and considered the “heart and soul” of religious life on campus, doctor of humane letters;
  • Thomas F. Frist Jr., MD, co-founder and chairman emeritus of HCA, the nation’s leading provider of health-care services, doctor of humane letters;
  • David L. Steward, chairman of World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based award-winning technology integrator company he co-founded, doctor of laws; and
  • Virginia V. Weldon, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist, former Washington University School of Medicine administrator and first woman chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges, doctor of science.

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.

Susan Deusinger, honorary grand marshal

Susan Deusinger

Also leading the procession into the Quad will be the honorary grand marshal, Susan S. Deusinger.

Deusinger spent 36 years at Washington University building a progressive academic culture in physical therapy to assure excellence in clinical practice, education and research.

Upon her retirement in 2014, Deusinger had served for 24 years as director of the Program in Physical Therapy and achieved the rank of professor of physical therapy and of neurology. She now serves as professor emerita.

Her work has led to the Program in Physical Therapy’s consistent No. 1 national ranking by U.S. News & World Report. The program has been recognized in the top 1 percent for two decades.

Deusinger joined the faculty in 1978 and went on to earn a master’s in education in 1980 and a PhD in social work in 1987, both at Washington University.

In 1990, she was named director of physical therapy at the School of Medicine. She not only facilitated advancing professional education in physical therapy to the doctoral level but gained approval in 1989 of the PhD in movement science.

In 1980, she developed the program’s first faculty clinical practice. Subsequently, in collaboration with her colleague and husband, Robert H. Deusinger, now an associate professor emeritus of physical therapy, an on-site evidence-based faculty practice was established. This has grown into an outpatient service that is integrated into the school’s Faculty Practice Plan.

She has been acknowledged multiple times by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). In 2006, she was named a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the APTA, the highest honor recognizing members’ efforts to advance the profession.

Traditions continue

Approximately 80 alumni from the Class of 1967, celebrating their 50th reunion, will march in the opening procession.

For the 37th 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.

Henry R. Cummings, a candidate for a bachelor of science in business administration, with a marketing major, from Olin Business School, will sing “America the Beautiful” to open the ceremony.

Austin J. Wesevich, a candidate for a doctor of medicine from the School of Medicine, will conclude the ceremony by singing the “Alma Mater.”

Reid Petty, president of the senior class, will deliver the undergraduate student Commencement greeting. Petty, from Mendham, N.J., is a candidate for a bachelor of science in business administration, with a marketing major, from Olin Business School.

Wei Zhu, who is a candidate for a juris doctoris from the  School of Law, was selected to give the graduate student address. She is from Hunan Province, China.

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 2017.

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

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments.