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Ruth Simmons to Deliver Commencement Address

April 12, 2012

Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons will deliver the University of Oklahoma’s Commencement address on May 11.

Dr. Simmons, an outstanding scholar, made history as the first African-American woman to head an Ivy League institution.

Simmons champions the university as a haven of reasoned debate with the responsibility to challenge students intellectually and prepare them to become informed, conscientious citizens. She has invested her career in advocating for a leadership role for higher education in the arena of national and global affairs.

“Dr. Ruth Simmons is one of our nation’s most respected university leaders,” said OU President David L. Boren.  “She overcame adversity and economic hardship to achieve academic excellence and personal success.  Her character and personal integrity make President Simmons an outstanding role model for our students,” Boren said.

The great-great granddaughter of slaves, Simmons grew up on a farm in Texas, the youngest of 12 children born to a father who was a sharecropper and a mother who was a part-time maid.  With sharecropping declining, when Simmons was 7 years old, the family moved to the fifth ward of Houston, a poverty-stricken neighborhood. Although her mother died when she was 15, together with her father they instilled in her the value of an education and hard work.  She credits teachers with mentoring, challenging and encouraging her throughout her life.

Simmons graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and earned her doctorate. in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University.

In 1983, after serving as associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California, Simmons joined the Princeton University administration. She remained at Princeton for seven years, leaving in 1990 for two years to serve as provost at Spelman College. She returned to Princeton in 1992 as vice provost, where she remained until June 30, 1995. In 1993, invited by the Princeton’s president to review the state of race relations on the campus, Simmons wrote a report that resulted in a number of initiatives that earned widespread attention.

In 1995, she became the first black female president of a major college or university when she was named to the top post at Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States, where she launched a number of strategic initiatives to strengthen the college’s academic programs and inaugurated the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Simmons was recently appointed by President Obama as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. In recent years Simmons has been a featured speaker at the White House, the World Economic Forum, the National Press Club, the Association of American Universities, and the American Council on Education.  In September 2001, ABC News tapped her to serve as a respondent during its live telecast following President Bush’s address to Congress.

Active in a wide range of educational, charitable, and civic endeavors, Simmons is the recipient of a numerous honors, including the President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund and the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal.

During her tenure at Brown University, Simmons has created an ambitious set of initiatives designed to expand and strengthen the faculty; increase financial support and resources for undergraduate, graduate, and medical students; improve facilities; renew a broad commitment to shared governance; and ensure that diversity informs every dimension of the university. These initiatives have led to a major investment of new resources in Brown’s educational mission.

OU’s Commencement will be moved to Lloyd Noble Center, 2900 S. Jenkins Ave., in the event of severe weather.

For more information and accommodations on the basis of disability, please call the OU Graduation Office at (405) 325-0841.