Journalist Dickey to deliver Commencement address

By Kaitlin McCabe '16

Hamilton College’s mission as a liberal arts institution is to provide an educational experience that fosters the development of students within a democratic world of intellectual and cultural diversity. Its very motto of “Know Thyself” emphasizes each member of its community’s individuality and uniqueness and in doing so, promotes a belief that just as there is not a definitive ‘Hamilton student experience’—there is not a single perspective through which its students must see and aspire to change the world.  The selection of speakers for the Class of 2014 Commencement reflects the College’s belief in effecting change across a variety of platforms and in diverse ways.

On Sunday, May 25, at 10:30 a.m., in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House, award-winning author and acclaimed journalist Christopher Dickey will deliver the Commencement address at Hamilton College in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House. Dickey is currently the foreign editor for The Daily Beast. Prior to his current position, he notably served as the Cairo bureau chief and Central America bureau chief for The Washington Post and as the Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor for Newsweek.  Throughout his journalistic career, Dickey has contributed to a variety of publications, including those as well known as Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.  His involvement in the media extends beyond print journalism; specifically, he is a frequent commentator on BBC World, France 24, Al Jazeera English, CNN, MSNBC and National Public Radio, as well as other television and radio networks. He is a member of the Overseas Press Club of America, the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris and the Council on Foreign Relations, where he was formerly an Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow.

Dickey’s extensive resume, however, is not limited to journalism.  He is also the author of several critically acclaimed books, including With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua; Expats: Travels from Tripoli to Tehran; Innocent Blood: A Novel, and Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son. Simon & Schuster published the sequel to Innocent Blood, The Sleeper, in 2004. Securing the City: Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force—the NYPD, was published in 2009 and chosen by The New York Times as one of the notable books of the year. His history of intrigues on the eve of the American Civil War, The Charleston Consul, will be published by Crown in 2015.

In May, the College will award Dickey with an honorary degree. Deborah Bial, the founder and president of the Posse Foundation, and Thomas Schwarz ’66, the current president of Purchase College, will also receive honorary degrees.

Bial’s Posse Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to increase student diversity at selective U.S. colleges, was formed in 1989 after Bial, a former youth leadership program worker in New York City, overheard a young student say,  “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.”

The foundation both identifies and recruits urban public high school students who have demonstrated leadership in their high schools and sends them in groups—or “posses”—to elite colleges and universities across the nation. Today, more than 5,500 Posse scholars have been awarded $670 million in four-year, full-tuition merit scholarships from the organization’s 51 partner institutions, such as Hamilton College. The College began its partnership with the organization in 2001, when it enrolled its first posse of students from the Boston area. Since that time, Posse has fulfilled an integral role in Hamilton’s community and even expanded in 2010 with the enrollment of 10 students from Miami in the Class of 2014.

In 2007, Bial received a “genius award” fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her work with Posse.

Thomas J. Schwarz ’66 is the fifth president of Purchase College, State University of New York.  Since joining Purchase in 2002, Schwarz has fulfilled various goals to improve areas of the college community. Specifically, during his tenure, both retention and graduation rates have improved, the endowment has increased, the campus has added new residences and a new Student Services building, and foreign programs have expanded.

Prior to joining Purchase, Schwarz earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at Hamilton College and a law degree, cum laude, from Fordham Law School, where he was an editor of The Fordham Law Review. Following graduation, Schwarz became a partner at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he served as the national practice leader of the Litigation Department and was the founding partner of the firm’s Committee on Diversity. In 1998, the Legal Aid Society presented him with its Pro Bono Award in 1998. He is also a recipient of the Leonard Manning Award from the Fordham University Alumni Association Law Review, which recognizes a distinguished alumnus for significant career achievements.

On the Hill, Schwarz joined the College Board of Trustees in 1987.  In 1999, he served as Hamilton’s acting president, during which time he worked to improve administrative and operational functions and to secure increased private and grant funding.

Singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash, who will receive an honorary degree from the College in December 2014, will offer the Baccalaureate sermon on Saturday, May 24, at 3 p.m., in the  Field House. Cash was born in Memphis, Tenn., the eldest child of Johnny Cash and Vivian Liberto. After her parents separated, she lived with her mother in Los Angeles. Her father went on to marry singer June Carter, who also had an influence on Rosanne’s musical path. After high school, Cash joined her father and stepmother’s road show, and became a soloist. 

Before starting a full-time career in music, she studied drama at Vanderbilt University and at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles. Over the past 30 years, the pre-eminent musician has recorded 12 albums and has had 11 #1 singles that have intersected the artistic genres of country and rock and roots and pop.  Her original songs have received acclaim for their highly personal nature and universal appeal.

Cash’s most recent album, The List, was released in the fall of 2009. Its songs were selected from a list of 100 great American songs given to her by her father when she was 18 years old.

In addition to writing music, Cash published a collection of short stories called Bodies of Water in 1995 and a children’s book, Penelope Jane: A Fairy’s Tale, in 2000. Her essays and fiction have appeared in various collections and publications, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, The Oxford American and New York Magazine. This August, Viking will publish Cash’s memoir, Composed.

The public and personal successes of these particular individuals will no doubt inspire both graduates and fellow members of the Hamilton community to look beyond customary paths in life and to pursue their intrinsic passions to find happiness and fulfillment.


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