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Teach for America’s Wendy Kopp Is Commencement Speaker

Honorary degree recipients named at Senior Breakfast


Wendy Kopp, the founder and current board chair of Teach for America, will deliver Boston University’s 140th Commencement address on Sunday, May 19, at Nickerson Field.

University President Robert A. Brown made the announcement during the Class of 2013 Senior Breakfast at the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Ballroom, where a record-breaking 2,200 students gathered Friday morning to share memories and break bread.

“I wanted to have someone as Commencement speaker who’s made a huge, huge impact on the world, and she did it coming out as an undergraduate,” Brown said of his choice, which was greeted by polite applause.

Kopp will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, Brown said. The president also named the other honorary degree recipients: Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, Doctor of Humane Letters; chemical engineer and biotechnology pioneer Robert S. Langer, Doctor of Science; and United Methodist Church Bishop Peter D. Weaver (STH’75), Doctor of Humane Letters. Weaver will also give the Baccalaureate speech on Commencement morning in Marsh Chapel. Economics and international relations major Adolfo Gatti (CAS’13) has been selected as this year’s student speaker. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01), who has announced that he will not run for a sixth mayoral term, will also be honored that day with a Boston University Medallion for his service to the community.

Freeman’s face flashed onto the projection screen first and the entire ballroom erupted as seniors whistled, screamed, and clapped enthusiastically. The announcement nearly drowned out the following three honorary degree recipients.

Brown also announced the winners of the University’s highest teaching honors. Deborah W. Vaughan (GRS’72), a School of Medicine professor of anatomy and neurobiology and assistant dean for admissions, will receive the Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Two other faculty members will receive a Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching: John R. Finnerty, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of biology, and Carol B. Jenkins, a School of Education associate professor of curriculum and teaching. The Metcalf Awards are presented at Commencement.

Boston University BU Senior Breakfast 2013, Boston University Class of 2013

Seniors celebrated their last breakfast together before Commencement on Sunday, May 19, at Nickerson Field.

Kopp, a Texas native, founded Teach for America in 1990, just one year after developing a proposal for the organization as her undergraduate senior thesis at Princeton University. The idea for the program grew out of her desire to address educational inequality in America.

Under Kopp’s leadership, Teach for America has grown from an initial corps of 500 recent college graduates to number 10,000 last year. Participants commit to two years of teaching in some of the neediest schools across America. In just over two decades, some 38,000 participants have reached 3 million students at nearly 50 sites nationwide. Fortune magazine named the nonprofit one of the top 100 best companies to work for in 2011.

Additionally, Kopp is chief executive officer and cofounder of Teach for All, a network of independent social enterprises that recruits and trains future educational leaders who commit to two years of teaching in high-need areas around the globe. She is also the author of the best seller A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All and of One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way.

Born in Memphis, Tenn., Freeman is one of the nation’s most respected and honored actors, equally adept at working in film and on stage. Known for his distinctive voice, incredible versatility, and ability to steal a scene whether playing a lead or a supporting character, he has appeared in more than 70 films. His star power emerged early on, when he won a statewide drama contest in Mississippi at the age of 12. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he studied acting and dance in Los Angeles before landing his first Broadway show, an all-black revival of Hello Dolly, in 1968. He has excelled on television and on stage; he played the title role in Coriolanus in 1980 and appeared in productions of The Gospel at Colonus and Driving Miss Daisy. But he is best-known for his work in films, among them Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby (taking home an Oscar for best supporting actor), and Invictus.

Langer, MIT’s David H. Koch Institute Professor, is a New York native with degrees from Cornell University and MIT. He has been called a “superman of science.” A chemical engineer by training, he pursued his passion for merging biotechnology with medicine as a postdoctoral fellow in a cancer research lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. Since then, his work has improved or saved lives through projects focusing on tissue regeneration, innovative ways of diagnosing diseases, and novel transdermal drug delivery systems for fighting cancer. He has written 1,200 articles, which have been cited more than 80,000 times, amassed 815 issued or pending patents worldwide, and earned more than 200 major awards in science, including the National Medal of Science in 2006 and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011. And he is among an elite group of scientists who have been elected to all three of the National Academies, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

The son of a pastor based in Greenville, Pa., Weaver studied at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Drew University, and Boston University and was ordained a deacon in the United Methodist Church at the age of 22. As a young pastor, he launched a number of ministries serving a broad range of congregants in Pittsburgh, cofounded a women’s shelter, and created an interfaith movement, One Voice Against Racism. He was elected a bishop in 1996 and served in the Philadelphia area until 2004, when he began a two-year term as president of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church. He was a member of BU’s Board of Trustees until 2012. Although retired, he is currently serving a four-year term as executive secretary of the Council of Bishops in Washington, D.C.

Class Gift Campaign chair Mike DeFilippis, Boston University BU Senior Breakfast 2013, Boston University Class of 2013

Class Gift Campaign chair Mike DeFilippis (COM’13) jumped into the Charles River with Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore and campaign cochair Lindsey Garber (COM’13) after Senior Breakfast to celebrate the gift’s goal being reached (and exceeded).

Brown praised this year’s graduating students for being a “truly an amazing senior class.” He said that although they entered the University in 2009, in the midst of the country’s financial collapse, they and their parents knew the value of a BU education.

“You came and you made BU your academic home,” Brown said. “We’re proud of what you’ve accomplished here and we’re going to be very proud of what you accomplish in the days ahead.”

During their time here, the Class of 2013 has witnessed the rise of the new Center for Student Services at 100 Bay State Road, benefited from the hiring of nearly 320 faculty—87 of them filling new positions—and seen the University join the Association of American Universities, whose fellow New England members include Harvard, MIT, Yale, Brown, and Brandeis. “Not a bad list to be on,” Brown said.

Brown also took a moment to recognize those students who would have been graduating soon, but died during the past year: Austin Brashears (ENG’13), Daniela Lekhno (SMG’13), Lu Lingzi (GRS’14), and Binland Lee (CAS’13).

Before the breakfast ended, a tuxedoed Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), dean of students and breakfast emcee, had an announcement to make: “I found out you made the number,” he said, referring to the Class Gift goal of 2,013 donations, which was upped to 2,326 Friday morning, and reached by the end of the breakfast. “I also read there are eels in the Charles.” Elmore had promised that if the goal was reached, he would celebrate by reprising his historic 2011 river plunge. And he did, along with his partners in slime, Class Gift campaign chairs Mike DeFilippis (COM’13) and Lindsey Garber (COM’13).

More information about Commencement can be found on the Commencement website.

Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Follow Leslie Friday on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

6 Comments on Teach for America’s Wendy Kopp Is Commencement Speaker

  • Andrew Coate on 05.06.2013 at 10:05 am

    I encourage everyone to read this article about how TFA truly works:


    • Ron on 05.06.2013 at 11:35 am

      Thanks for sharing this link Andrew.

      Too bad the BU administration did not consider the ongoing critique of TFA. Seems like a teacher or principal at one of Boston’s neediest schools would have been a more valuable and inspiring as the commencement speaker.

    • Anonymous on 05.06.2013 at 3:29 pm

      Having read the article you linked (and I’m previously unfamiliar with TFA beyond hearing the name), I can’t say I share the moral outrage of the author. It sounds a lot like how the Peace Corps operates- give people some training, give them an assignment for a few years, and then let them move on to something else. The people who want to be career teachers are the people who went to SED (or the equivalent at other universities). And as long as they have a continuous revolving door of applicants, it sounds like they would still be able to reach a lot of schools and students. As for preferring Ivy League candidates to other schools, I can understand the author’s frustration but I can’t really blame TFA for attaching themselves to as many “prestige candidates” (unsure how else to word that) as possible.

      Feel free to convince me otherwise. I’ll keep an open mind.

      • Demian on 05.06.2013 at 10:06 pm

        TFA recruits are not volunteers. TFA is essentially a head-hunter and does a very modest amount of training. Districts, not TFA, still have to pay recruits a regular salary like any other teacher. Plus, districts (remember these districts are typically struggling financially) have to pay TFA fee of ~$2-5K for every placement, regardless of how long recruits stay. And, most recruits are gone after 2 years (one recent study found that only 36% remained after 2 years and 16% remained after 3). This exacerbates the high churn of inexperienced, ill-trained teachers that low income students too often get.

        TFA is only successful because it’s ideologically aligned with business interests which have provided TFA with almost $1 billion over the last 3 years.

        Check out http://reconsideringtfa.wordpress.com/ for more on TFA

  • Ang on 05.06.2013 at 10:34 am

    The big reveal of the commencement speaker was “greeted with polite applause”

    AKA “well that’s pretty lame but I guess we’ll clap for you and try not to make this awkward but really it’s your fault for mentioning Morgan Freeman like 5 seconds before this”

  • Grad on 05.06.2013 at 1:27 pm

    Not to mention that it’s hugely insulting to graduating SED students.

    “Hey you spent four years and thousands of dollars for a teaching degree? This lady says someone with 5 weeks training is more qualified than you!”


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