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Press Release

Barbara Laskin

Children’s Defense Fund Founder and President
Marian Wright Edelman is Macalester Commencement Speaker


Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF)

David Ranheim, Macalester Class of 1964, former chair of the Board of Trustees and a trustee for 30 years until 2005

Faculty members
James Stewart, History
Michael Obsatz, Sociology
Sears Eldredge, Theater and Dance
Jack Rossmann, Psychology

St. Paul, Minn. - The keynote speaker for Macalester's 118th Commencement on Saturday,  May 12, will be Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). Commencement will be at 1:30 p.m. on the lawn outside Old Main.

Under Mrs. Edelman’s leadership since 1973, CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families.

Mrs. Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-60s when, as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Miss. 

"We are honored to have such a distinguished speaker this spring," said Macalester President Brian Rosenberg. "Mrs. Edelman has devoted her entire career to advocating on behalf of children and other underrepresented people. She has been a voice for social justice and equality and is a marvelous example of one person making a difference in the world."

In addition to speaking, Mrs. Edelman will receive an honorary degree from the college, doctor of humane letters. Also receiving an honorary degree will be Minneapolis attorney David Ranheim, Macalester Class of 1964, former chair of the Board of Trustees and a trustee for 30 years until 2005. Until his retirement, Ranheim was a partner in the Minneapolis law firm of Dorsey & Whitney.

Four retiring faculty members will also receive special honorary degrees recognizing their many years of service to the Macalester community. The faculty members are James Stewart, History; Michael Obsatz, Sociology; Sears Eldredge, Theater and Dance; and Jack Rossmann, Psychology.

Herschel S. Nachlis ‘07, Pittsford, N.Y., a political science major with minors in English and Legal Studies, will be the senior class speaker. His talk is entitled “Reflections & Projections.”

Mrs. Edelman has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life.  The mission of the Children's Defense Fund is to Leave No Child Behind and to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.
In l968, she moved to Washington, D.C., from Mississippi, as counsel for the Poor People's Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death.  She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children's Defense Fund.  For two years she served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University and in l973 began CDF.
Mrs. Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977. She has received over 100 honorary degrees and many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings which include eight books:  Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours; Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children; Stand for Children; Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors; Hold My Hand:  Prayers for Building a Movement to Leave No Child Behind; I'm Your Child, God:  Prayers for Our Children; and I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children.

She is a board member of the Robin Hood Foundation, the Association to Benefit Children, and City Lights School and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Marian Wright Edelman is married to Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown Law School. They have three sons, two granddaughters and two grandsons.

Commencement ceremonies will include an academic procession led by the Macalester Pipe Band, flag bearers representing 32 countries of the 42 graduating international seniors plus the U.S. and U.N. flags, faculty in academic robes and 462 seniors.

Macalester College, founded in 1874, is a national liberal arts college with a full-time enrollment of 1,884 students. Macalester is nationally recognized for its long-standing commitment to academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement.