St. Paul, Minn. – James Forman Jr., J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School, will be the 2019 commencement speaker at the Macalester College graduation ceremony.

Commencement will be held at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, May 18, at the college.

Forman spoke to this year’s graduates as Macalester’s First Thursday speaker in September 2015 when they began at Macalester, and he will speak to them once again as they graduate in May.

“James Forman Jr. is an original thinker, a driving force, an architect, and an inspiration,” said Macalester President Brian Rosenberg. “He is a person who shows us the inequalities that exist in our society, bringing to light uncomfortable issues that have to be addressed. We need people like James Forman Jr. to help us see what we might not want to see. We’re fortunate to have him as our commencement speaker this year.”

Forman teaches and writes in the areas of criminal procedure and criminal law policy, constitutional law, juvenile justice, and education law and policy.

He attended public schools in Detroit and New York City before graduating from the Atlanta Public Schools. After attending Brown University and Yale Law School, he worked as a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court.

After clerking, he joined the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., where for six years he represented both juveniles and adults charged with crimes.

During his time as a public defender, Forman became frustrated with the lack of education and job training opportunities for his clients. So in 1997, along with David Domenici, he started the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, an alternative school for school dropouts and youth who had previously been arrested. A decade later, in 2007, Maya Angelou School expanded and agreed to run the school inside D.C.’s juvenile prison. That school, which had long been an abysmal failure, has been transformed under the leadership of the Maya Angelou staff; the court monitor overseeing D.C.’s juvenile system called the turnaround “extraordinary.”

Forman taught at Georgetown Law from 2003 to 2011, when he joined the Yale faculty. At Yale, he teaches Constitutional Law, a seminar called Race, Class and Punishment, and a seminar called Inside Out: Issues in Criminal Justice, in which Yale law students study alongside men incarcerated in a Connecticut prison.

His particular interests are schools, prisons, and police, and those institutions’ race and class dimensions.

Forman’s first book, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, was on many top 10 lists, including the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2017 and was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Commencement ceremonies will include an academic procession with the Macalester Pipe Band, flag bearers, faculty in academic robes, and the 540 seniors representing 43 states, the District of Columbia, two tribal nations, and 32 countries.

Learn more about Macalester College at

May 13 2019

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