Elizabeth Alexander is named Baccalaureate speaker

Writer, poet and memoirist Elizabeth Alexander has been named speaker for this year’s Baccalaureate. The multifaith celebration led by graduating students will take place on Saturday, June 16, at 10 a.m. in the Main Quad.

Alexander joins award-winning actor and alumnus Sterling K. Brown, who was previously named Commencement speaker.

Elizabeth Alexander
Elizabeth Alexander

Alexander is president of the Mellon Foundation, a philanthropic organization for higher education and the arts. Her writing addresses topics such as race, gender, politics and motherhood. Her 2005 book of poems, American Sublime, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

In 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama asked Alexander to compose and read a poem for his inauguration. The poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” was recited before an international audience and later published.

A native of Harlem, New York, Alexander grew up in Washington, D.C. Her father, Clifford Alexander, was the former U.S. Secretary of the Army and the first African-American to hold the position. She received degrees from Yale and Boston universities before earning her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Professor Jane Shaw, dean for religious life at Stanford, called Alexander a talented and thoughtful poet, essayist and memoirist whose advocacy of the arts is vital in today’s world.

“Her ability to articulate the importance of the arts and humanities, as well as a sense of the sacred, for reaching beyond ourselves and connecting to others makes her voice an important one for our graduating students as they go out into the world,” Shaw said.

As Baccalaureate speaker, Alexander will provide graduates and their friends and families with inspirational words acknowledging the spiritual contribution to their education. More information about Baccalaureate is available online.