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Widener University Awards Diplomas to Nearly 900 Graduates

Widener University President James T. Harris III urged nearly 900 students graduating from Widener on Saturday to take a different view of the “top one percent” of wage earners who have been the target of national protests in recent months. From a global perspective, Harris said the top one percent includes most of the people attending the graduation ceremony.

“If we are talking about the highest salaries, we are talking about those in the U.S. who make greater than $250,000 a year,” Harris said. “But if we talk about that top one percent of annual income world-wide, that number drops to $35,000 a year. So, when people say disparaging things about those in the top one percent, they are talking about many of the people in the audience today and a place where most of the graduates will be shortly. Does that mean you are a problem for society? The answer is absolutely not.

“My concern is that whenever one group is singled out as a ‘problem’ due to income, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity or any perceived difference – we are on shaky ground. As college graduates, we owe to our nation, to our communities, and to our democracy to not let anyone simplify a problem so that the solution is to treat one particular group differently or more harshly.”

Bill Duke, the African American godfather of American cinema, presented the commencement address. Duke recently received a Lifetime Achievement Tribute from the Directors Guild of America, joining the ranks of directors Stephen Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock and Clint Eastwood. He is also a humanitarian and activist who serves on the Board of Trustees of Educating Young Minds, an after school program that helps inner city youth to excel in school and life. He is also involved with the United Nations UNAIDS mission to eliminate AIDS globally.

Duke's directing credits include The Killing FloorA Rage in HarlemSisterAct 2Deep CoverHoodlumThe Cemetery ClubCover and Not Easily Broken, Black Diamonds: The Evolution of Blacks in Baseball and Dark Girls. His acting credits include PredatorAmerican GigoloCar WashCommandoMenace II SocietyBird on a WireThe LimeyGet Rich or Die TryingX-Men 3Henry’s Crime, and The Big Bang.

In his address, Duke humorously urged graduates to avoid “egocentric materialism and vested self interests,” and praised soldiers and teacher for their sacrifice and their ability to motivate us.

“Without the intervention of all the teachers that confronted me and refused to allow me to use any excuses – including race, poverty, or any other excuse that I came up with – all hope in me would have died. There is not dollar amount that can be placed on this contribution.”

On behalf of the graduating class, salutatorian and Senior Class Gift Committee member Jacqueline Beers of Upper Darby, Pa. presented President Harris with the largest senior class gift in university history – a check for $5,215.39. The Widener Board of Trustees challenged the senior class to raise $5,000 this year, pledging $75,000 if they reached that goal. The senior class designated the gift of the university’s Widener Fund, which provides financial aid to students and support for faculty research and extracurricular activities.     

“This year, the Senior Class Gift was special because it united the entire Widener community including students, alumni, faculty, staff and parents,” Beers said. “With this gift, we will make such a difference at Widener University.”

Harris introduced Michael Forese, an accounting major from Downingtown, Pa. as the valedictorian, and Jacqueline Beers, an accounting major from Upper Darby, Pa. as the salutatorian, but the student address was delivered by President’s Award recipient Anna Miller of East Prospect, Pa. The President’s Award is presented to the senior who has contributed the most to campus life through scholarship and participation in extracurricular activities.

“When I look back at my time her at Widener 10 years from now, I’m not going to remember the grades that I earned or what exactly I did in a leadership position that I held,” Miller said. “What I will remember is all of the people who have impacted my life. Remember those people who have had an impact on your life and strive to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate’s, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,600 students. Visit the university website,



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