John Lewis Named 2018 Commencement Speaker

Rep. John Lewis, recipient of the 2017 Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award, receives a third standing ovation at the conclusion of an April 2017 conversation honoring his activism.

Congressman and civil rights leader John R. Lewis will come to campus to speak at Harvard’s 367th commencement ceremony, the University announced Wednesday.

Lewis will address graduates during the Afternoon Program of commencement, which will take place in Tercentenary Theatre on May 24.

Lewis, a decorated icon of civil rights in the United States, has represented Georgia’s 5th congressional district for over 30 years. He was one of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the March on Washington in 1963 and he helped lead the 1965 march across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. Lewis was awarded an honorary doctorate of law degree from Harvard in 2012.


University President Drew G. Faust said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette that Lewis is an inspiration to the world and praised him for his service.

“For more than 50 years, John Lewis has dedicated himself to the ideals of equality and decency, standing up for what is right, even when it meant putting himself in harm’s way,” Faust said.

A native of Alabama, Lewis joined the Civil Rights Movement at a young age and continued to fight for equality across numerous demonstrations, at times persevering despite physical injuries like a fractured skull. He became involved in politics as a member of the Atlanta City Council in 1981 and earned election to Congress as a representative for Atlanta, remaining a member ever since.

Lewis is currently senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party in the House as well as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He holds more than 50 honorary degrees from universities like Princeton and Columbia.

He is also the recipient of numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement, the only such distinction ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

History professor Lisa M. McGirr, who teaches U.S. in the World 41: “Power and Protest: The United States in the World of the 1960s,” wrote in an emailed statement that she thinks Lewis is a “terrific” choice of speaker. She pointed to his actions in the civil rights movement and called him an “inspiration” for Harvard graduates.

“He is an excellent and timely choice at a moment when a new generation of young people are beginning to raise their voices to demand an end to gun violence and continued racial injustice,” McGirr wrote.

Lewis’s office did not respond immediately for comment Wednesday night.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.

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