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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Bial will address graduates

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: News

Deborah Bial ’87, founder and president of the Posse Foundation, will deliver the 2012 commencement address, President Fred Lawrence announced at the university’s board of trustees meeting on Wednesday.

Along with two Nobel Prize winners, a musical educator, and former philanthropist and Brandeis trustee Myra Kraft who passed away last year, Bial will receive an honorary degree at the May 20 ceremony, according to a university press release.

“Debbie is a visionary leader in education and richly deserves this honor. The only request I made of her was that she mention, somewhere in her remarks to our graduates, that she once sat right where they are sitting that day,” Lawrence said in the press release. “That’s very powerful because there is simply no better example of social justice in action than Debbie Bial.”

After having worked in the New York City public schools, Bial designed and founded the Posse Foundation, motivated by a returning student’s claim that he wouldn’t have dropped out of college if his “posse” had been with him. She received a $1.9 million grant for the college-admissions tool, which targets and recruits public high school students who are would otherwise be overlooked by the admissions process, and sends them in teams—or posses—to specific schools. In 2007, Bial was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Myra Hiatt Kraft ’64, who passed away last summer, will be among the five individuals receiving honorary degrees. As president of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation and through her work with the Robert and Myra Kraft Family Foundation, Kraft has gained worldwide recognition for her philanthropic work. In 1986, she became a Brandeis trustee and served on the board for 10 years. Her husband, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots football team, also was a generous supporter of the university. He will receive the award on her behalf.

Other individuals receiving honorary degrees include two Nobel Prize winners, Sydney Brenner and Amartya Sen, and president of the Julliard School, Joseph Polisi. Brenner’s work in molecular biology and genetics and as founder of nonprofit research organization, Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, Calif., has led to new breakthroughs in evolution, aging and genetic code understanding. Sen, an economist and philosopher, is recognized for his work in addressing issues related to famine and for developing the theory of social choice in social justice and welfare economics.

In May, the university will celebrate its 61st commencement ceremonies. Last year’s speaker was New York Times columnist David Brooks.