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Mary Frances Berry


Mr. President, I have the honor of presenting Dr. Mary Frances Berry, who throughout her distinguished and inspiring career has been a ferocious champion of racial and social justice here and abroad; an accomplished author, lawyer, historian, and professor; and a vital civil rights leader who has partnered with, and sometimes defied, U.S. presidents in service to the greatest good.

Dr. Berry, your scholarship, your activism, and your public service are foundational to our understanding of the American experience. Through your seminal writings across 12 books, you’ve shared valuable and personal insights into the ugly strains of racism and sexism that course through this nation like a boiling river. As the former Assistant Secretary of Education and as a former member and chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, you advocated for those without privilege, those without voice, those who are routinely encountered with lessened regard.

Dr. Berry, you’ve spoken often and passionately about the importance of persistence when it comes to creating change. Enduring change, you’ve noted, requires focus and resilience and patience. It typically arrives in waves, not spasms — and you have been a wave-maker for generations. In 1976, you became chancellor of the University of Colorado, the first Black woman to head a major research university. In 1984 you founded the Free South Africa Movement, dedicated to the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. In your books, and in your position as Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania, you’ve laid bare the political and economic forces that have stymied progress on everything from parental leave to the unequal application of the law against people of color.

You once said, “Every generation has to make its own dent in the wall of injustice.” Dr. Berry, empowered by your example, ignited by your words, future generations will see to it that the wall continues to crumble.

Mr. President, on behalf of the trustees, faculty, students, and staff at Clark University, it gives me great pleasure to request that the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, be conferred upon Mary Frances Berry.