Main content
Congressman John Lewis to speak at Emory Commencement May 12

Civil Rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis will deliver the keynote address at the University’s 169th commencement ceremony Monday, May 12. He also will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Commencement will take place on the campus Quadrangle with about 15,000 expected to be in attendance. For details on Commencement weekend, see

Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and securing civil liberties. While still a young man, Lewis became a nationally recognized leader, and was dubbed one of the "Big Six" leaders of the national Civil Rights Movement.

At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activities, including sit-ins and other activities. He later served as director of the Voter Education Project, helping to register millions to vote.

In 1977, Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of the federal volunteer agency ACTION. In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council and in 1986 to the U.S. Congress as representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District. He is senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives and is a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, serving on subcommittees on oversight, income security and family support.

Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards from national and international institutions, including the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor granted by the United States. He holds a B.A. in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary.

Two other individuals will join Lewis this year as recipients of honorary degrees:

• Ben F. Johnson III, (1965, College)
As chair of Emory’s Board of Trustees for 13 years, Johnson oversaw governance of the University, helped to shape its leadership team, and tended to its long-range fiduciary health until stepping down in November. As board chair, Johnson chaired the search committee that recommended appointment of Emory President James Wagner. During his tenure as chair, Emory developed a university-wide strategic plan and a campus master plan, and launched the most ambitious fund-raising campaign in Emory’s history, raising $1.69 billion to support teaching, research, scholarship, patient care and social action. Johnson will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Beverly Daniel Tatum
The ninth president of Spelman College, Tatum is an accomplished administrator, having led Spelman in growth and recognition since 2002. Tatum is widely recognized as a scholar, teacher, race-relations expert and leader in higher education. President Barack Obama appointed her to the Advisory Board for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

In 2005, Tatum received the prestigious Brock International Prize in Education for her innovative leadership. Tatum also is a member of several national non-profit boards including the Institute for International Education, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Teach for America, and is chair of the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education. She will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Recent News