Warren Wilson College News

WWC Commencement speakers: robed, but not from the same cloth

2010 Commencement Speaker and WWC alumnus Tony Earley ’83


Although forerunner Asheville Farm School was founded in the 19th century, it’s easy to forget that Warren Wilson College has been awarding bachelor’s degrees for only 45 years. After transitioning from a two-year college to a senior institution in the 1960s, Warren Wilson awarded its first four-year degrees in 1969.

Today, of course, the College bestows both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, though the latter are awarded at separate ceremonies held by the MFA Program for Writers. In 2010, when writer and WWC alumnus Tony Earley ’83 delivered a side-splitting main address, Warren Wilson granted more than 200 bachelor’s degrees at Commencement for the first time. The Class of 2014 will be a bit smaller in number, but no less accomplished.

For most of the 1970s, the task and honor of delivering the Commencement address was assumed by Warren Wilson College President Reuben (Ben) A. Holden, who succeeded Arthur M. Bannerman as president in 1971. Since 1980, however, the Commencement speaker has generally come from outside the College, though a few in addition to Earley have been Warren Wilson alumni including 2013 speaker and MFA alumnus Joseph Bathanti. In the 1980s and 1990s, several speakers held positions with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

But particularly since the early 1980s, men and women from various walks of life have given the main address. Their ranks include the following from public life:

- Former U.S. commissioner of education.
- President of the Czech Commission for UNESCO.
- Former mayor of Charlotte.
- U.S. congressman.
- Former ambassador to the United Kingdom.
- Vice President of the United States.

Yes, Vice President George H.W. Bush delivered the address in 1986, about 2½ years before he was elected President. That also was the year Ben Holden retired after a successful 15-year run as Warren Wilson’s second president.

Many other fields and professions have been represented in an eminent group of speakers that has included writers, educators, clergy and singers/songwriters such as Janis Ian in 2012. In 2009 Ray Anderson, chairman and founder of Interface Inc., became the first Commencement speaker in Warren Wilson’s history as a four-year college to come straight from the corporate world. In 2011 Sylvia Earle broke new ground (waves?) when she became the first oceanographer to deliver the Commencement address. Go here to read or watch the past five Commencement addresses at Warren Wilson.

And this year? None other than the irrepressible Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” will do the honors, about the same time his weekly program airs on many public radio stations including WCQS-FM in Asheville. As usual, the Commencement festivities begin at 10 a.m. on the lawn of Sunderland Residence Hall.


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