Noted Humanitarian to Deliver Commencement Address

Benjamin Beggs '20 Communications Studies
Head shot Image of 2020 commencement speaker Father Greg Boyle
Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, is the 2020 commencement speaker.

Widener is proud to announce that Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world, will be the 2020 commencement speaker. He will also receive an honorary degree.

Boyle was named commencement speaker after a university selection process that invited and encouraged nominations from across the Widener community. 

“Father Boyle is an ideal choice to address our graduates and their families,” Widener President Julie E. Wollman said. “He is a leader who inspires others to pursue their fields of interest in unique and impactful ways. His mentorship has transformed the futures of many young people. We know he will help Widener send the class of 2020 out into the world inspired to create positive change.”  

For nearly 200 years, the university has been educating leaders, blazing pathways, shaping industries and making the improbable likely. Students are encouraged to take advantage of civic engagement opportunities, mindful that they support critical thinking, collaboration and socially responsible leadership. Boyle’s life and work has been dedicated to advancing similar values. 

Boyle was appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles in 1986. Through his experiences, he witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence on his community.

Head shot of 2020 commencement speaker Father Greg Boyle
Father Gregory Boyle

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Boyle has said. “Hope is an essential thing.  Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”  

During the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, Boyle started a community-organization project through the Dolores Mission, called Jobs for a Future and Proyecto Pastoral. The project’s first social enterprise was launched in an abandoned bakery, which came to be known as the Homeboy Bakery. Its success created the groundwork for additional social enterprises, leading Jobs for a Future in 2001 to become an independent nonprofit organization, Homeboy Industries.

Boyle’s services extended beyond his own organization, as he served as a chaplain at both the Islas Marias Federal Penal Colony in Mexico and at Folsom State Prison in California following the end of his pastoral term in 1992. His New York Times-bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, received the PEN Center USA 2011 Creative Notification Award, and his most recent book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, was published in 2017.

Since acting as the subject of Academy Award-winner Freida Lee Mock’s 2012 documentary, G-Dog, Boyle has been awarded the California Peace Prize, the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award from the James Beard Foundation, and the University of Notre Dame’s 2017 Laetare Medal. He was also inducted into the California Hall of Fame and was named a Champion of Change by the White House under President Barack Obama. 

He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Gonzaga University, a master’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University, a Master of Divinity degree from the Weston School of Theology, and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1984 after entering the Society of Jesus in 1972.

The commencement ceremony, honoring graduate and undergraduate students who studied through Widener’s main campus, will take place Saturday, May 16 at 10 a.m. at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.

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