2012 Commencement Speaker: Melissa Harris-Perry

March 30, 2012

Melissa Harris-Perry Named Wellesley College’s 2012 Commencement Speaker

WELLESLEY, Mass.—Professor, political scientist, author, Nation columnist, MSNBC host, and rising “nerdland” icon Melissa Harris-Perry will address the 600 members of the Class of 2012 and an international audience of their families and friends at Wellesley College’s 134th Commencement Exercises Friday, May 25, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.

In keeping with Wellesley tradition, the announcement of the 2012 speaker was made at the College’s “Senior Soiree,” March 29. Senior Class President Kate Leonard ’12 of Rochester, New York, said, “We are all overjoyed to have such an accomplished and impressive speaker for our Commencement ceremony this year. We greatly admire Melissa Harris-Perry's incorporation of intellectual discourse into popular media and the sharp wit she brings to political and cultural analysis.” Leonard continued, “I look forward to hearing her thoughts on what lies ahead for the Class of 2012 and any wisdom she may offer this diverse group of talented, ambitious women. Who better to address a class of  “women who will” than a woman who has?”

Harris-Perry is host of MSNBC's "Melissa Harris-Perry," which premiered in February and airs Saturday and Sunday mornings. Harris-Perry is the first African-American woman to solo-host a news and politics show on a major TV news outlet, she is also the only tenured professor in the United States to host a cable news show. She is widely praised for bringing the stimulating, intellectual discourse of the academic world to popular audiences. Commenting on her show to The New York Times’ Brian Stelter, Harris-Perry said, “Part of the way I end up here is, I think the ivory tower has a ton of brilliant information that doesn’t show up for ordinary people…They’ll go with you to nerdland, but you have to earn their trust.”

Unlike many other colleges and universities, Wellesley’s commencement speaker selection process is driven by its students. 

H. Kim Bottomly, President of Wellesley College, said, “Each year, Wellesley’s graduating seniors, who are ready and eager to make their mark, express their sense of the times, engagement with the world, and openness to inspiration in the selection of their Commencement speaker. Wellesley’s 2012 Seniors are making an important statement by inviting Melissa Harris-Perry to address the class. It’s clear that they value the need to support and be supported by each other—smart, empowered women who are boldly, and thoughtfully, pioneering every platform.” President Bottomly added, “Melissa Harris-Perry is the kind of leader that Wellesley women admire, and we are honored and excited to welcome her to Wellesley.”

Harris-Perry is Professor of Political Science at Tulane University, where she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. This semester, Harris-Perry is teaching two courses: America’s First Ladies and Introduction to African American Politics. She previously served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Princeton University.

Harris-Perry is an author as well as a columnist for The Nation magazine, where she writes a monthly column titled Sister Citizen. Her 2011 book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale), argues that persistent harmful stereotypes—invisible to many but painfully familiar to black women—profoundly shape black women's politics, contribute to policies that treat them unfairly, and make it difficult for black women to assert their rights in the political arena.

In addition to hosting, Harris-Perry is a coveted expert, providing commentary on U.S. elections, gender concerns, racial issues, and religious questions for The Rachel Maddow Show, The Colbert Report, PBS, CNN, The Huffington Post, and many others.

Melissa Harris-Perry received her B.A. in English from Wake Forest University, her Ph.D. in political science from Duke University and an honorary doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, James Perry, and daughter, Parker. 

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About Wellesley College

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,400 undergraduate students from 50 states and more than 75 countries.

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