2017 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients Announced

Adm. James Stavridis

Ret. four-star Admiral James Stavridis

Retired four-star Admiral James Stavridis, who served as supreme allied commander for NATO, will deliver Dickinson’s Commencement address on Sunday, May 21. Commencement festivities begin at 10 a.m. in front of historic Old West on the John Dickinson campus.

Honorary degrees will be conferred on Stavridis as well as former U.S. Congressman James Gerlach ’77, and AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson. Additionally, in keeping with a Commencement tradition established in 2012, Dickinson will present the recipient of its highest honor for environmental advocacy, The Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism. This year’s recipient is Brett Jenks, president and CEO of Rare, a global conservation organization that creates climate-smart solutions for people and nature.  

James Stavridis

Adm. Stavridis was the longest-serving combatant commander in recent U.S. history. From 2009-2013, he led the NATO alliance in global operations as supreme allied commander with responsibility for Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Balkans, cybersecurity and piracy off the coast of Africa. His memoir of the NATO years, The Accidental Admiral, was released in 2014, and his leadership book, The Leader’s Bookshelf, appeared in March of 2016. He is married to Laura Hall Stavridis '81, and the father of two daughters.

From 2006-2009, Stavridis led the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, with responsibility for all military operations in Latin America. He earlier served as senior military assistant to the secretary of the Navy and the secretary of defense and—immediately after the 9/11 attacks—led “Deep Blue,” the Navy’s premier operational think tank for innovation. Earlier in his military career, Stavridis commanded the top ship in the Atlantic Fleet, winning the Battenberg Cup for operational excellence, as well as a squadron of destroyers and a carrier strike group, all in combat. He is a recipient of the Navy League John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership and holds more than 50 medals, including 28 from foreign nations.

After 37 years of service, Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 and became the 12th dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a position he holds currently. An Annapolis graduate, he holds a Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School, where he won the Gullion Prize as top student. Stavridis also chairs the board of the U.S. Naval Institute, the professional association of the nation’s sea services: Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. He is a monthly columnist for TIME magazine and chief international security analyst for NBC News.

In 2016, Stavridis was among a short list of candidates considered by Sen. Hilary Clinton for vice president and—after the election—by President Donald Trump for secretary of state. He has published eight books on leadership, maritime affairs, Latin America, ship handling and innovation as well as hundreds of articles and op-eds in leading journals. He will receive a Doctor of Public Service honorary degree.

Honorary Degrees

James Gerlach ’77



Gerlach serves as president and chief executive officer of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), the oldest bipartisan business political action committee in the nation. He joined BIPAC following an extensive career in public service and the private sector. From 2003 to 2015, Gerlach represented Pennsylvania’s sixth district, which ranked as the most competitive House district in the country during his tenure. He served on the House Ways and Means Committee and its Subcommittees on Health and Select Revenue, as well as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Financial Services Committee and the Small Business Committee.

Recognized for his strong record of being an independent voice on federal policy, Gerlach’s legislative accomplishments in Congress include establishing national veterans’ cemeteries in southeastern Pennsylvania and three other states; reauthorizing and extending the national estuary program; lifting U.S. free trade restrictions against Ukraine; and authorizing U.S. economic aid and defense assistance to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of that country.

Prior to his time in Congress, Gerlach served four years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and eight years in the Pennsylvania State Senate. During his public service career, he received recognition from a wide array of business, health care and conservation groups, including the U.S. Chamber; National Association of Manufacturers; National Federation of Independent Business; American Farm Bureau Federation; National Breast Cancer Coalition; National Association of Community Health Centers; Natural Lands Trust; National Parks Conservation Association; and the Humane Society of the United States. He will receive a Doctor of Political Science honorary degree.

Lisa Marsh Ryerson



As president of AARP Foundation—AARP’s affiliated charity—Ryerson sets the Foundation’s strategic direction and leads its social impact initiatives. Under her leadership, the Foundation has embarked on relationships with high-profile organizations to create and advance effective solutions to help vulnerable older adults meet their basic needs.

A multiyear collaboration with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins shines a national spotlight on the plight of older Americans while enlisting thousands of volunteers—including Dolphins players, coaches and fans—to deliver services and opportunities to the South Florida community, where one in seven seniors lives in poverty. The Foundation’s newest collaborative effort, Connect2Affect, brings together aging, academic, volunteer and health care organizations to help end isolation and build the social connections older adults need to thrive.

Ryerson joined AARP Foundation in 2013 after 18 years as the president and CEO of Wells College in Aurora, N.Y. Her many accomplishments there include increasing enrollment by 45 percent—thus revitalizing the economy of the surrounding community—and launching an endowed Center for Business and Entrepreneurship.

Reflecting her expertise in higher education, Ryerson has built new links between AARP Foundation and community colleges to increase employment opportunities for older adults. She helped procure a $3 million federal grant from the Social Innovation Fund to expand the Back to Work 50+ retraining program for the long-term unemployed. Other achievements include the release of a groundbreaking report on the state of housing for America’s older adults and implementing an “innovation pipeline” to generate, test and analyze new ideas to help low-income seniors.

Ryerson has served on the boards of numerous higher education and nonprofit organizations. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards for leadership and service. She will receive a Doctor of Social Services honorary degree.

Rose-Walters Prize

Brett Jenks



Rare uses its expertise in human-behavior change to create enduring and sustainable climate-smart solutions for both people and nature. Jenks leads Rare’s international mission to equip people in the world’s most biologically diverse countries with the tools and motivation needed to sustainably manage their natural resources. During his tenure with Rare, Jenks has created large-scale partnerships with Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Oceana, Environmental Defense Fund, UNESCO, AVEDA, Encourage Capital and the ministries of environment and fisheries of many nations. Having grown Rare nearly 3,000 percent since 2000, Jenks is now focused on helping the organization globally scale climate-smart conservation solutions, including sustainable management of small-scale fisheries and coastal habitats and ensuring reliable, clean freshwater supplies.

Prior to Rare, Jenks was a journalist and filmmaker and served as the Costa Rica field coordinator for WorldTeach, a nonprofit based at the Center for International Development at Harvard University. He is a Catto Fellow, Braddock Scholar and McNulty Prize laureate with the Aspen Institute, a member of the Closed Loop Fund’s investment committee and an advisor to the Grantham Trust. He will have a brief residency at Dickinson during the 2017-18 academic year at dates to be determined.

The $100,000 Rose-Walters Prize was created to focus attention on the need to reduce the impact of human lives on the planet. It includes a brief campus residency and public lecture. Previous recipients are Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert; award-winning actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo; author and environmental activist Bill McKibben; Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson; and award-winning nature photographer James Balog.

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Published February 28, 2017