Colombian President Santos, UVA’s McDowell, Pianta to Address Graduates

From left, Finals Weekend speakers Robert C. Pianta, Juan Manuel Santos and Deborah E. McDowell.

Two distinguished faculty members will give the addresses during the University of Virginia’s 188th Final Exercises, set for May 20 and 21, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate will speak to the graduates during Valedictory Exercises.

On Friday, May 19, Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, will talk to members of the Class of 2017 – whose ranks include his son – during Valedictory Exercises. On Saturday, May 20, Deborah E. McDowell, UVA’s Alice Griffin Professor of Literary Studies and director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, will address the graduates of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. On Sunday, May 21, Robert C. Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education, will speak to the graduates of the University’s other 10 schools and its Data Science Institute.

All three ceremonies will be held on the University’s Lawn, weather permitting.

“It is a tremendous honor for UVA to have an international leader of President Santos’ distinction as our speaker for Valedictory Exercises,” UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “This is always a meaningful event for our graduating students and their families, and the opportunity to hear from Nobel Peace Prize-winner President Santos will add stature and significance to an already momentous day. I congratulate the Class of 2017 Trustees on their success in attracting such an excellent speaker.”

Sullivan also praised the Finals speakers.

“In addition to serving as longtime, contributing members of the UVA community, both Deborah and Bob are highly distinguished nationally and globally in their respective fields,” Sullivan said. “Deborah is a renowned and respected writer and scholar in the field of African-American literature. Bob is an expert on early childhood education and teacher quality, and he has led the Curry School of Education to new heights in his decade as dean. Both of them will have valuable insights to share at Final Exercises.”

The University expects to award some 6,600 degrees to roughly 4,000 graduates of its 11 schools in May. Finals Weekend is expected to draw some 35,000 visitors to the University’s Grounds.

May 19 Speaker: Juan Manuel Santos

Santos, a former journalist who was first elected president of Colombia in 2010, is the father of Esteban Santos, who is expected to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Policy and Leadership from the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts to end his country’s protracted war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist guerrilla organization.

Santos, whose great-uncle had been president of Colombia from 1938 to 1942, was a cadet at the Navy Academy in Cartagena, where he studied economics and business administration. He graduated from the University of Kansas with an undergraduate degree in economics and business administration, and pursued graduate studies at the London School of Economics, Harvard University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

As a journalist, he was a columnist and deputy director of the newspaper “El Tiempo” and was awarded the King of Spain International Journalism Prize and served as president of the Freedom of Expression Commission for the Inter-American Press Association. He published several books, including “The Third Way,” co-written with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; and “Check on Terror,” detailing actions against the FARC rebels while he was National Defense Minister.

He was chief of the Colombian delegation to the International Coffee Organization in London and Colombia’s first foreign trade minister. He also has served as Colombia’s finance minister and national defense minister, where he was in charge of implementing the government’s Democratic Security Policy. Santos created the Good Government Foundation and founded the political party Partido de la U, currently Colombia’s largest political party, in 2005.

He was elected president of the Republic of Colombia in 2010. In seeking a second four-year term, he received more than 9 million votes, the highest total obtained by any candidate in the history of Colombian democracy.

Santos is no stranger to UVA. In 2013, he gave a talk in the Dome Room of the Rotunda on the negotiations with the rebels.

May 20 Speaker: Deborah E. McDowell

McDowell, an internationally recognized scholar of African-American literature, has been a member of the English faculty since 1987 and was named the Alice Griffin Professor in 2000.

She was born, reared and educated in the industrial city of Bessemer, Alabama, whose schools remained segregated for 15 years after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court decision was the law. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Tuskegee University in 1972 and master’s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University in 1974 and 1979, respectively.

She spent eight years as an assistant, then associate professor of English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and was a visiting professor of English at Duke University.

Emerging in the 1980s as a leading figure in the development of African-American women’s literature and feminist critical theory, McDowell founded the African-American Women Writers Series for Beacon Press and served as its editor from 1985 to l993, overseeing the republication of 14 novels spanning the late 19th through the late 20th centuries. She served as editor for the first Norton Anthology of African American Literature and was co-editor, with Arnold Rampersad, of “Slavery and the Literary Imagination.

As an author and scholar, McDowell has written widely for both academic and general audiences. Her publications include: “‘The Changing Same’: Studies in Fiction by African-American Women” (1995) and “Leaving Pipe Shop: Memories of Kin” (1997), as well as numerous articles, book chapters and scholarly editions, most recently “The Punitive Turn: New Approaches to Race and Incarceration,” co-edited with Claudrena Harold, a UVA associate professor of history, and Juan Battle, professor of sociology at the City University of New York, the Graduate Center. The collection of essays grew out of a UVA symposium she organized in 2009.

Since 2008, McDowell has directed UVA’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, shepherding its undergraduate major and its world-renowned fellowship program and serving as editor of the Carter G. Woodson Imprint sponsored by the University of Virginia Press.

She has been the recipient of various grants, including the Mary Ingraham Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe College, the National Research Council Fellowship of the Ford Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson International Center Fellowship. She was elected to UVA’s Raven Society in 1998 and received an honorary degree from her alma mater, Purdue University, in 2006.

May 21 Speaker: Robert C. Pianta

Pianta became dean of the Curry School of Education in 2007. He is the Novartis U.S. Foundation Professor of Education, professor of psychology and the founding director of UVA’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.

Pianta’s research and policy interests focus on the intersection of education and human development. In particular, his work has been influential in advancing the conceptualization of teacher-student interactions and relationships and documenting their contributions to students’ learning and development. He has written or co-written more than 300 articles, 50 chapters and 10 books, and has led research and training grants totaling more than $60 million. He is past editor of the Journal of School Psychology and associate editor for American Educational Research Association Open. Among several scholarly service roles, Pianta was a member of the Head Start National Research Advisory Board, the advisory board for the William T. Grant Young Scholars Program, and the National Research Council Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics.

Pianta has led research and development on measurement and improvement tools that help teachers interact with students more effectively and that are used widely in the United States and around the world. His work has influenced the development and improvement of early education programs in Colombia, Ecuador, Australia, Chile and Turkey.

He received Bachelor of Science and a Master of Arts degrees in special education from the University of Connecticut and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota. He began his career as a special education teacher and joined the UVA faculty in 1986.

An internationally recognized expert in both early childhood education and K-12 teaching and learning, Pianta regularly consults with federal agencies, foundations, universities and governments. Pianta received the Senior Scientist Award from Division 16 of the American Psychological Association in 2014 and the Review of Research Award from the American Education Research Association in 2002. He was named a fellow of the American Education Research Association and received Distinguished Alumnus Awards from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education in 2014 and from the University of Minnesota in 2016.

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