College Celebrates 81st Commencement
Commencement Address Delivered by Humanitarian and Actor Melissa Fitzgerald
Release Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008
Humanitarian and actor Melissa Fitzgerald delivered the 81st commencement address at Chestnut Hill College on Saturday, May 17, at an outdoor ceremony on the College's campus. The College awarded 237 bachelor degrees, 195 graduate degrees as well as 18 doctoral degrees in clinical psychology during the ceremony.
Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees were awarded to William T. Walker, Ph.D., senior vice president, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Chestnut Hill College and to alumna Emily McKay Binns, Ph.D. ’52 (posthumously) which was accepted by her brother, James J. Binns, Esq. The Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching was awarded to associate professor of sociology Sarah Kitchen, J.D. The Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award was given to John Bole, adjunct professor of business in the School of Continuing Studies.
Melissa Fitzgerald, best known for her role as Carol Fitzpatrick on the award-winning television series, The West Wing, addressed the Class of 2008, which includes the largest undergraduate graduating class in the history of the College. During the commencement ceremony, Ms. Fitzgerald received the Chestnut Hill College Medal.
Ms. Fitzgerald is also an activist and humanitarian, sharing both her time and talent to give back to the community. Melissa has been involved in local, state, and national political organizations and campaigns speaking on behalf of issues such as the environment. She was a member of the board of the International Association of Physicians (IAPAC) in AIDS care, and in 2004 traveled to South Africa as an IAPAC volunteer and worked with children and adults affected by HIV/AIDS.
In 1995, Ms. Fitzgerald established Voices in Harmony, a non-profit community outreach theatre program that mentors at-risk youth from the Los Angeles area. The program provides positive adult role models and tutors to help them achieve in school and succeed in life. Through exploring the artistic expression of theatre, teens are encouraged to examine issues such as drug abuse, prejudice, racism, and violence.
With their mentor and the expertise of professional directors and writers, participants create short films or plays that show how these issues affect their lives. The group recently produced Listen, a drug awareness documentary film written and performed by the teens and their mentors that explores the challenges of growing up in urban Los Angeles. To date, Voices in Harmony has worked with over 400 at-risk teenagers and volunteer mentors in after-school programs.
Ms. Fitzgerald has also spent time advocating for peace in war-torn Uganda, taking the Voices in Harmony program to the war-torn country, using expression and acting as a means of healing and forgiveness. During the summer of 2006, she traveled to Uganda with the International Medical Corps where she worked on several programs including a drama for an educational campaign on gender-based violence. While in Uganda, she worked with malnourished children and witnessed the terrible conditions facing the people in northern Uganda. With the desire to tell the stories of the atrocities of the refugees as well as their uncrushable hope and resilence, Melissa returned to the refugee camps last summer and is current co-producing the documentary “Voices of Uganda,” a compelling film illuminating the situation facing teenagers in war-torn northern Uganda.
In addition to her role as Carol Fitzpatrick on the West Wing, Melissa Fitzgerald has appeared on the television series Grey’s Anatomy and General Hospital and in the movies The Truman Show, Boxing Helena, and Frequency.
Ms. Fitzgerald, a native of Philadelphia, is the daughter of long-time Chestnut Hill residents, Carol McCullough Fitzgerald, executive director of the Pennsylvania Society and member of the Chestnut Hill College Board of Directors, and the Honorable James J.
Fitzgerald, III, currently serving as a Senior Judge on The Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Melissa Fitzgerald earned a bachelor of arts degree in literature and drama from the University of Pennsylvania and studied acting at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.
Emily McKay Binns, Ph.D. ’52 was an esteemed alumna of Chestnut Hill, as well as a respected theologian, beloved teacher and scholar, administrative leader in higher education and advocate for social justice. She graduated from Chestnut Hill College in 1963, earning a bachelor’s degree in the classics. Her love of language and her extraordinary gift of making meaning through words accompanied her to The Catholic University of America where she earned a master’s degree and in 1970, a doctorate in theology.
As a Sister of St. Joseph for 20 years, Emily embodied the charism of “unity and reconciliation” which shaped her entire life and work both in and beyond the classroom. In significant ways, she did this by her very presence to people- in the classroom, in national and international lecture halls, and even on the streets of Philadelphia, where a story is told of Emily’s gentile charm actually stopping the rain one cold Sunday in December 2004, as she gathered folks at Fifth and Snyder to honor a police officer, killed at the spot in the line of duty. Students at Villanova University, where she taught for 20 years, remember Dr. Binn’s as a favorite teacher, a professor who instilled in students a love of learning and “the religious studies teacher who awakened in me, an engineering student, an awareness of my own spiritual depth.”
William T. Walker, Ph.D. has served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Chestnut Hill College since 1998. Bill’s distinguished career in higher education include positions at Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, Gwynedd-Mercy College, and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.
While working at Chestnut Hill, Dr. Walker’s leadership has strengthened Chestnut Hill’s reputation as an institution committed to excellence. He has been dedicated to the support of faculty of scholarship, advocating for increased funding for faculty development and sabbatical leave. In his capacity as Chief Academic Officer, he assisted with the preparation and implementation of the Strategic Plan, served on committees of SEPCHE and as project director for numerous SEPCHE grants, and assumed primary responsibility for maintaining the College’s accreditation with the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Dr. Walker has remained active in teaching and scholarship. He has authored or co-authored four books and is currently working on A Research Guide to Nineteenth-Century World History scheduled to be published in 2009. Since arriving at Chestnut Hill, he has published 25 articles and 18 book reviews, in addition to organizing several national conferences held at the College. He also founded and maintained the Chestnut Hill College Reading and Discussion Group, where faculty and staff meet to discuss some of the best works of modern literature.