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Mary Frances Berry

Renowned scholar and civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and will provide our Commencement address.

For more than four decades, Mary Frances Berry has been one of the most visible and respected activists in the cause of civil rights, gender equality, and social justice. Serving as chairperson of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Berry led the charge for equal rights and liberties for all Americans over the course of four presidential administrations. As chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder, she was the first woman of any race to head a major research university.

She made history as one of the founders of the monumental Free South Africa Movement (FSAM). She received the Nelson Mandela award from the South African government for her role in organizing the FSAM, raising global awareness of South African injustice that helped to end more than 40 years of apartheid. As assistant secretary for education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, she worked to make these historically inequitable systems achieve a new level of fairness.

A prolific author, Berry’s books cover a wide range of subjects, from the history of constitutional racism in America to the history of progressive activism. She is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor Emerita of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches the history of American law and the history of law and social policy.