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Widener University announces speakers for its May 2018 ceremonies

Commencement speakers for 2018

Maj. Heather Penney will speak at the undergraduate ceremony and Jeffrey Rosen will speak at the graduate ceremony.

Widener University is pleased to announce the distinguished speakers for its May 2018 commencement ceremonies: Jeffrey Rosen and Maj. Heather “Lucky” Penney. More than 800 graduates will receive degrees between the two events.

Rosen will speak at the graduate student commencement ceremony. It will be held on Memorial Field at the university on Friday, May 18 at 9:30 a.m.

Rosen is president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. He has developed the center’s acclaimed Interactive Constitution, which brings together top conservative and liberal legal scholars to discuss areas of agreement and disagreement about every clause of the Constitution. The online resource has received 15.5 million hits since launching in 2015.

He is also a professor at George Washington University Law School, and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. Rosen is a highly regarded journalist who was called “the nation’s most widely read and influential legal commentator,” by a Los Angeles Times reviewer. His work has been published in the New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker and he is a frequent guest on NPR. He received the Golden Pen Award from the Legal Writing Institute. He is the author of six books, most recently a biography of William Howard Taft.

Rosen and the Constitution Center partnered with Widener in November when the university launched its Common Ground Initiative. He moderated a panel discussion between Widener University President Julie E. Wollman and Delaware Law School Dean Rodney A. Smolla at the program, “The First Amendment: Finding Common Ground in a Polarized World.” He has been a supportive voice for the initiative, which involves a commitment to treating others’ perspectives and opinions with respect, listening with civility, and sharing thoughts and experiences in an effort to find common ground. Rosen and Wollman are sharing the stage at the 2018 SXSW EDU in Austin, Texas to discuss the initiative. He is a graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University and Yale Law School.

Penney will speak at Widener’s undergraduate student ceremony. It will be held Saturday, May 19 at 9:30 a.m. on Memorial Field.

Penney was part of the first wave of women who went directly into fighter planes from pilot training. She grew up around aviation and warbirds, and learned that Congress had opened combat aviation to women while she was earning her Master of Arts at Purdue University. She applied to the Air National Guard and earned her wings at ENJJPT, Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, where she flew the T-37 and T-38. The first and only woman in the 121st Fighter Squadron, Penney deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for initial combat operations as a night-time SCUD Hunter in the western deserts of Iraq, also supporting Special Operations Forces.

Most widely recognized for her service on Sept. 11, 2001, Penney was deployed that morning in an F-16 fighter jet from Andrews Air Force Base, with one mission: bring down United Airlines flight 93. The nation was under attack and there was no time to load ammunition or missiles onto the jet, so her task was to use her own plane to find and bring down the hijacked commercial airliner. The plan to crash into the Boeing 757 was essentially a suicide mission. United flight 93 crashed on its own in Shanksville, Pa.

Penney flew the F-16 for ten years before making the difficult decision to leave the fighter aviation as a single mother. She continued to serve, flying the Gulfstream G-100 Astra jet for another six years in the VIP Special Airlift Mission. She currently serves as senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies at the Air Force Association. Previously she worked for Lockheed Martin as the director of Air Force aviation training systems, specializing in capture management, government relations, and strategic business development. She also served as the national chair for the commemorative Air Force’s RISE ABOVE: WASP program from 2016 to 2017, telling the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots to inspire young girls to follow their dreams.

Both Rosen and Penney will receive honorary degrees during the commencement ceremonies. The degrees recognize their accomplishments and records of service, in addition to the ways they exemplify the Widener mission. The university recently revised its process for the nomination of honorary degree recipients, soliciting nominations from faculty, staff, students and trustees.

“I am delighted to recognize both of our speakers with these honorary degrees. Jeffrey Rosen’s work, particularly with the Interactive Constitution, reflects a commitment to innovation and the search for common ground. Heather Penney’s service to our nation over her entire military career, and especially on Sept. 11, exemplifies the courage it takes to be a great leader. Both individuals embody values we hold in the highest regard at Widener and because of that I expect their speeches will be poignant and memorable,” President Julie E. Wollman said.

Headshots of both Rosen and Penney are available for download here.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development 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, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website,