Commencement 2011 Honorary Degree Recipients
Wheelock bestowed honorary degrees on three exceptional individuals who truly embodied the college's 2011 Commencement theme of "Advocating on Behalf of Children: Inspiring a World of Good." Our honorees were: Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Smith College Professor of English Language and Literature Eric Reeves, and Co-Founder of the Child Care Information Exchange Bonita Schon Neugebauer.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, served as Wheelock's 2011 Commencement Speaker.
In her inaugural speech as the first woman President of Ireland, Mary Robinson said, "Human freedom is that precious space secured by standards, laws, and procedures that defend, protect, and enhance human rights. We are all custodians of those standards." Compelled by a deep respect for the law and an inner sense of justice during her presidency, Mrs. Robinson advanced women's rights and environmental preservation, among many other humanitarian causes. As a member of the Irish Senate and the Irish Bar, she has used law as an instrument for social change, arguing landmark cases before the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Communities as well as in the Irish courts.
After leaving her popular presidency in 1997 to become United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson actively continued her leadership as an impassioned advocate promoting human rights and global justice. She is a founding member and former President of the Council of Women World Leaders. For eight years, she served as President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. Her foundation, the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice, is a center for thought leadership, education, and advocacy in the struggle to secure justice for "victims of climate change who are usually forgotten - the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalized across the world."
A member of The Elders, the group of eminent global leaders assembled by Nelson Mandela in 1997 to offer their collective experience and influence in support of peace building and the shared interests of humanity, Mrs. Robinson has received many honors, which include the Medal of Freedom from President Obama, awarded in 2009. She is a world humanitarian of heroic stature.
Eric Reeves is Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College in Northampton, MA.
A distinguished Renaissance scholar and Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, Professor Reeves is respected worldwide as a passionate advocate for children and families suffering from the violent conflict and genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Professor Reeves has spent more than a decade researching and revealing to the world - and for the historical record - the Khartoum regime's crimes against humanity. Acting on his belief that with knowledge comes responsibility, he is a tenacious adversary of the regime and has been called "a thorn in the conscience" of those international policymakers who have responded ineffectively to the Darfur tragedy.
Professor Reeves has testified extensively through congressional hearings, lectures, radio and television interviews, the Internet, and publications in the U.S. and internationally to bring the story of Darfur and its people to public attention. Writing about his book, A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide, a scholarly reviewer praised "the brilliant, fierce, and rigorous writings of a one-man lobbying machine who is singlehandedly responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Reeves sends us all off in search of our 'better angels.'"
Professor Reeves' own actions on behalf of Sudan's children include his Schools for Sudan initiative, which has helped to fund a school for 600 students and is a model of what can be achieved educating children in war-ravaged areas. He recently established the Sudan Aid Fund for areas experiencing unnoticed but severe deprivation, including extreme rates of malnutrition. His guiding principle for the Fund is: "Wherever and whenever present human suffering in Sudan can be mitigated by financial support for a particular humanitarian project, there is no justification for waiting."
Bonita "Bonnie" Schon Neugebauer '81MS, founded Child Care Information Exchange with her husband, Roger Neugebauer, in 1981 and the World Forum Foundation in 1999 which sponsors the World Forum on Early Care and Education international conference.
Ms. Neugebauer is widely known for her success in creating community among early childhood care and education professionals. An innovative and expansive thinker, Ms. Neugebauer began her life's work while completing her graduate degree at Wheelock. With her husband, Roger Neugebauer, she founded Child Care Information Exchange to promote communication and sharing of ideas in these fields nationwide. The Neugebauers developed Exchange into an organization that today offers conferences, seminars, publications, and online resources connecting professionals in a global network that helps drive children's advocacy and Wheelock's mission worldwide. Ms. Neugebauer is the visionary editor of content for Exchange's communications, which include Exchange magazine, Exchange Publications, Exchange Press Books, and "ExchangeEveryDay," a daily early childhood educators news brief.
Ms. Neugebauer is also cofounder of the World Forum Foundation, a partner of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and sponsor of the World Forum on Early Care and Education. She directs program development for World Forum and collaborates with leaders of other global organizations to bring together practitioners from more than 80 nations to work on specific issues related to delivering quality services in diverse settings.
The World Forum's first Working Forum, held in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2004, brought together professionals from 15 countries to strategize about the healing of communities affected by war and conflict, and established the International Working Group on Peace Building with Young Children. Other projects have focused on men working in child care, nature education, and children in orphanages. Currently Ms. Neugebauer is developing international projects advocating for children impacted by HIV/AIDS, children's rights, and children without homes.