WATERVILLE — Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson has accepted an invitation to deliver the commencement address May 22 at Colby College, when artist Jamie Wyeth and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, are also to be among those honored by the Waterville liberal arts college.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson. Photo courtesy of Joe Henson

Along with Wyeth and Shah, those receiving honorary doctoral degrees at the college’s 201st commencement exercises are to include Maulian Dana, ambassador for the Penobscot Nation; investor and philanthropist Michael Gordon, a Colby graduate for whom the future performing arts center on campus is to be named; and Eric Rosengren, also a Colby graduate and retired president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Honorary degrees are given to those who have made important contributions through their professional pursuits, commitment to community and generosity of spirit, according to an announcement released by Colby.

“We are inspired by these remarkable individuals,” Colby President David A. Greene said in the announcement. “Collectively they have shaped policies that have bettered the lives of countless people and communities, illuminated issues that deserve our focused attention and action, and brought beauty and art into our lives.”

Education advocate Ana Rowena Mallari is to speak May 21 at Colby’s baccalaureate services. She is co-founder, CEO and board chair of QuestBridge, a nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, California, that serves talented, low-income youth and helps place them at some of the nation’s top colleges and with employers, including Colby, according to the college’s announcement.

“Colby’s partnership with QuestBridge began in 2015 and is instrumental to the college’s mission of recruiting the most talented and diverse students to Mayflower Hill,” according to the announcement. “Since the partnership began, the college has enrolled more than 280 QuestBridge scholars, including 175 in the past four years.”


Honorary degree recipients, faculty and guests will join about 540 seniors expected to receive degrees during commencement exercises Sunday, May 22. The students come from 36 states and 23 countries, according to Colby.

The commencement ceremonies, to which the public is invited, are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on the lawn of Miller Library, weather permitting. Those who are not graduating are asked to bring their own chairs. Notice of location change due to weather would be posted at colby.edu, where the link to a livestream of the event will also be available.

Wilkerson is recipient of the National Humanities Medal and was the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. She is the author of “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” and “The Warmth of Other Suns,” the latter having made national news when President Barack Obama highlighted it for summer reading in 2011.

“Wilkerson tells stories of migration and reinvention and the enduring search for the American dream, and she has become an impassioned voice for demonstrating how history can help us understand ourselves, the country, and the current era of upheaval,” according to the college’s announcement.

Dana is Maine’s first appointed Penobscot National tribal ambassador, who advocates on behalf of the Wabanaki people and is a leading voice in the effort to pass a tribal sovereignty bill before the Maine Legislature.

Gordon, a member of Colby’s board of trustees and the Colby Museum board of governors, is also a trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


Rosengren, the outgoing chair of the college’s board of trustees, is an economist who has led several efforts to expand the Federal Reserve’s outreach to low- and moderate-income communities, according to Colby.

Shah, meanwhile, “has provided calm and effective leadership for Maine residents throughout the pandemic … and has earned widespread praise — and attracted ardent fans — for his direct communication and detailed explanations during televised COVID-19 news briefings,” the college said.

Wyeth is a “beloved painter whose portraits and works have brilliantly captured the people and places in his life,” according to the college’s announcement. He also has been “one of the great supporters of scholars of American art through the Wyeth Foundation for American Art and was instrumental in Colby’s recent purchase of Allen and Benner islands off the coast of Maine.”

Wyeth, the son of Andrew Wyeth and grandson of N.C. Wyeth, both renowned artists, is considered among the most accomplished American artists of his time.

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