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President Emerita of Brown University to Deliver OU Commencement Address

President Emerita of Brown University to Deliver OU Commencement Address

Outstanding scholar and President Emerita of Brown University Ruth J. Simmons will deliver the University of Oklahoma’s Commencement address.

The commencement takes place at 7 p.m. Friday, May 13, in The Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, 180 W. Brooks St.

Simmons, who was the first woman president of Brown University, will serve as Commencement speaker to honor the memory of OU alumna Elizabeth Garrett, who was initially scheduled to deliver the Commencement address and who recently passed away. Garrett was the first female president of Cornell University and one of OU’s most outstanding graduates in its history.

Simmons, who was OU’s 2012 Commencement speaker and a recipient of an honorary doctorate of humane letters, will join the 2015 honorary degree recipients: Jim Bialac, Carol Burr, Chun Lin and Reggie Whitten, who will be recognized at this year’s Commencement ceremony. The 2015 honorary degree recipients were invited back to campus to participate in the Commencement ceremony since last year’s ceremony was canceled due to severe weather.

“I can think of no more appropriate person to honor the late Beth Garrett than Ruth Simmons,” said OU President David L. Boren. “She is like Beth, a great scholar and like Beth broke new ground as the first woman to be president of another Ivy League university. She was one of the most inspiring speakers at OU’s Commencement in recent years,” said Boren.

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.

Simmons is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Council on Foreign Relations. Active in a wide range of educational, charitable and civic endeavors, Simmons is the recipient of numerous honors, including the President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and honorary degrees from various colleges such as Amherst College, Columbia University, Harvard University and Princeton University.

During her tenure at Brown, Simmons created a bold set of initiatives designed to expand and strengthen the faculty; increase financial support and resources for undergraduate, graduate and medical students; improved facilities; renewed a broad commitment to shared governance and ensured that diversity informs every dimension of the university. She led these initiatives to invest in new resources in Brown’s education mission. She has invested her career in advocating for a leadership role for higher education in the arena of national and global affairs.

Further information on Commencement and a complete schedule of college convocations are available on the university’s Commencement website at

For additional information on Commencement, please contact the Graduation Office at

(405) 325-0841 or visit