Valerie Jarrett, the longest-serving senior adviser to President Barack Obama, shared wisdom and perspectives about her leadership roles with 490 graduates of the Spelman College class of 2017 during her commencement address at 3 p.m., Sunday, May 21, at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta. She also received the National Community Service Award at the ceremony.
Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman said, “As a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and as a leader committed to service, Valerie Jarrett embodies the attributes that inspire Spelman women. She is adept at leading change. A skilled collaborator, she is able to balance disparate interests and points of view in order to effect meaningful change. We are honored to have Ms. Jarrett as our 130th commencement speaker.”
The daughters of Katherine Johnson, Joylette Goble Hylick and Katherine Goble Moore, accepted an honorary degree on their mother’s behalf.
Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. The physicist and mathematician made contributions to the United State’s aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA. Known for accuracy in computerized celestial navigation, Johnson received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and French from West Virginia State University before conducting technical work at NASA that spanned decades. During this time, she calculated the trajectories, launch windows and emergency backup return paths for NASA flights from Mercury through the Space Shuttle programs. Her calculations were critical to the success of these programs, including the NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Johnson also executed calculations for plans for a mission to Mars. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Muhire Kwizera, C’2017, a mathematics major, and K’yal Bannister, C’2017, a chemistry and dual-degree engineering major, were named co-valedictorians for the Spelman College class of 2017. The seniors, each with a 4.0 G.P.A, led their class during the commencement ceremony.
Kwizera will attend Columbia University to pursue a Ph.D. in biostatistics. “Before enrolling at Spelman, I knew of only one career path for a mathematician and that was becoming a math teacher,” said Kwizera in a statement to the press. “I appreciate how Spelman introduced me to other career paths as a mathematics major and am grateful for professors like Dr. Viveka Brown, who introduced me to research during my first year, and along with others, helped me refine my research interests through my classwork.
“Upon completion of my doctoral program, I would like to create a research group that will develop statistical techniques and apply them to the analysis of public health data from developing countries,”
Bannister will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology as part of Spelman’s dual degree engineering program before pursuing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering.
“My time at Spelman provided me the opportunity to build many technical and soft skills,” said Bannister in a statement to the press. “As an aspiring researcher, I have had the opportunity to conduct research that has prepared me for graduate school and a career in the academic or industrial sector. The coursework at Spelman has ignited my passion for research, offering a unique experience for a Black woman and my desire to impart positive social change.” When she completes her Ph.D., Bannister intends to work at the intersection of biofuels research and energy policy.