TV Producer Shonda Rhimes ’91 to Speak at Commencement


Shonda Rhimes ’91, the creative force behind several acclaimed television series, including the current ABC hit Scandal, will deliver the main address at Dartmouth’s 2014 Commencement exercises on Sunday morning, June 8, on the Green.

Shonda Rhimes ’91 (Photo courtesy of Shonda Rhimes ’91)

Rhimes, a Golden Globe winner and three-time Emmy nominee, is also the creator, head writer, and executive producer of medical dramas Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. President Barack Obama appointed her to serve as a trustee for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2013, and that same year TIME magazine—for the second time—named Rhimes one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In 2013, Rhimes won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Drama Series for Scandal, and in 2014 she received the Directors Guild of America’s Diversity Award. Additionally, she has been named to Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” Variety’s “Power of Women” and Glamour’s “Women of the Year.”

Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon ’77 will deliver the Valedictory Address to the graduates. Also speaking will be the student valedictory speaker from the undergraduate senior class. The valedictory speaker will be announced the week of Commencement, after final grades are calculated.

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The other honorary degree recipients are:
  • Eric Foner: Pulitzer prize winner and Columbia University’s DeWitt Clinton Professor of History
  • Margaret Geller: astrophysicist, Smithsonian researcher, and MacArthur “genius grant” winner
  • David Kelley: design thinker, entrepreneur, and the Donald W. Whittier Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford
  • Zakes Mda: South African writer and Ohio University creative writing professor
Dartmouth typically awards about 1,000 bachelor’s degrees and 600 master’s and doctoral degrees in the arts and sciences and from the College’s three professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business.

The academic procession to the Green begins at 9:30 a.m., and visitors are advised to be in their seats by that time. Commencement ceremonies begin at 10 a.m.

Biographical Information for Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients

Shonda Rhimes ’91 (Doctor of Arts) Writer and producer

Shonda Rhimes ’91 is widely acknowledged as one of the most creative and powerful showrunners working in Hollywood today. An award-winning writer and producer of television shows and films, she formed her own production company, Shondaland, in 2004.

In addition to her network television success, Rhimes wrote the feature films Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement and Crossroads. She co-wrote Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, for which Halle Berry won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for Best Actress in a miniseries.

Rhimes grew up in an academic family in Chicago, and loved books and storytelling even as a young child. An English literature with creative writing major, she was director of Dartmouth’s Black Underground Theatre and Arts Association, and her work earned her numerous awards for excellence as an undergraduate. After a brief stint in advertising, Rhimes earned her MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where she was awarded the Gary Rosenberg Writing Fellowship. She resides in Los Angeles with her three daughters.

Rhimes has received numerous awards for her television series work, including for Grey’s Anatomy: the 2007 Golden Globe for Outstanding Television Drama; the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series, which she won for five years in a row, through 2011; and five NAACP wins for Outstanding Drama Series. She also received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series and Writing for a Drama Series.

For Scandal, her awards include the 2013 AFI Award, Peabody Award, and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Drama Series, as well as a nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and the 2012 GLAAD Golden Gate Award. For Private Practice, Rhimes received awards including the Television Academy Honors award in 2010 and 2011, and the Prism Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series in 2011.

Eric Foner (Photo courtesy of Eric Foner)

Eric Foner (Doctor of Humane Letters) Historian and educator

Eric Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. A renowned teacher and prolific author, his 2010 book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, won the Bancroft Prize, the Pulitzer Prize for History, and the Lincoln Prize.

Foner studies 19th-century American history, the American Civil War, and slavery, at the intersection of intellectual, political, and social concerns. His 1988 book, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, is considered the standard source on the era.

Foner holds bachelor’s degrees from Columbia and Oxford, and a PhD from Columbia. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy. A committed public historian, he was the on-camera historian for PBS’s Freedom: A History of US. He has lectured extensively to both academic and non-academic audiences, and served as a curator and consultant to historic sites and museums.

Margaret Geller (Photo courtesy of Margaret Geller)

Margaret Geller (Doctor of Science) Astrophysicist and cartographer of the universe

Margaret Geller is a world-renowned astrophysicist currently serving as a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Science, and is the recipient of numerous international prizes and prestigious lectureships.

Geller holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s and PhD from Princeton. A 1990 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winner for her work in astrophysics, Geller studies the formation of stars—including the development of hypervelocity stars, a phenomenon she co-discovered—and of the Milky Way. She maps the distribution of dark matter throughout the universe, as well as the distribution of galaxies, all part of her aim to understand the immense patterns that surround us.

Her dedication to science education and communication has led her to an active public presence as a lecturer, filmmaker, and subject of many media interviews.

David Kelley (Photo courtesy of David Kelley)

David Kelley (Doctor of Science) Design thinker, entrepreneur, engineer, and teacher

David Kelley, founder of the design firm IDEO, counts among his team’s many creations the first mouse for Apple computers. A professor at Stanford University and a founder of Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (commonly known as the, Kelley is a pioneer in “design thinking,” an innovative approach that incorporates human behavior in design. He is the co-author of Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All.

Kelley received the 2005 Sir Misha Black Medal for his “distinguished contribution to design education,” one of many awards for design and innovation with which he has been honored. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineers; he holds a degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and a master’s from Stanford’s Joint Program in Design.

Zakes Mda (Photo courtesy of Zakes Mda)

Zakes Mda (Doctor of Arts) Novelist, poet, playwright, and professor

Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda, who writes as Zakes Mda, is a novelist, poet, and playwright, and a professor of creative writing at Ohio University. Born in South Africa, he holds degrees from Ohio University and the University of Capetown. His novel The Heart of Redness won the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa as well as the inaugural Sunday Times (South Africa) Fiction Prize.

Mda grew up in a household deeply engaged in South Africa’s politics. His father, Ashby Peter Mda, was a colleague of the late Nelson Mandela. Zakes Mda published an autobiography, Sometimes There Is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider, in 2012, and the novel The Sculptors of Mapungubwe, in 2013.

Mda is a founding member of the African Writers Trust. He divides his time between Ohio and South Africa, where he is a dramaturge at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and a director of the Southern African Multimedia AIDS Trust in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

Additional Commencement Information

Saturday, June 7: Speakers for Dartmouth’s professional schools’ Class Day and Investiture ceremonies; and for Baccalaureate Service

A variety of ceremonies take place before Commencement, including Class Day and Investiture ceremonies for Dartmouth’s three professional schools, and Baccalaureate, a multi-faith service open to all graduates and their guests. Speakers will be added on the Commencement website as further information becomes available. The events, in chronological order, are:

  • 9 a.m., Geisel School of Medicine: Class Day, Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center Courtyard. Keynote speaker: Dr. Anne dePapp, Global Director of Scientific Affairs for the Women’s Health and Endocrine Franchise Office of the Chief Medical Officer at Merck & Co. Inc.
  • 10 a.m., Thayer School of Engineering: Investiture Ceremony, Spaulding Auditorium, Hopkins Center. Keynote speaker: David Kelley, Founder of the design firm IDEO, professor at Stanford University and founder of Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (commonly known as the
  • 3 p.m., Baccalaureate: A multi-faith service for all graduates and their guests, Rollins Chapel. Speakers: Husband and wife team of singer-songwriter Noel Paul Stookey (the “Paul” in Peter, Paul and Mary), and the Rev. Elizabeth Stookey, who works as a minister and chaplain.

Revised on May 29, 2014.

Kelly Sundberg Seaman