Commencement speakers will focus on civil rights

Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 213th Commencement on June 2. Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, will speak at Baccalaureate ceremonies on June 1. Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, will confer honorary degrees to both speakers at commencement as well as to Norman Borlaug, Frank Gehry, Raymond F. Henze III ’74, Robert Moses and Anna Jacobson Schwartz.

Morris Dees

Born in Alabama in 1936, Dees, the son of a farmer and cotton gin operator, experienced prejudice and racial injustice firsthand while growing up. He graduated from the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama Law School and founded a successful publishing company. He later sold the company and began his crusade for civil rights.

In the late 1960s, Dees began taking cases involving racial controversy, most of which were unpopular among the white community. He filed suit to stop construction of a white university in an Alabama city that already had a predominantly black state college. In 1968, he filed suit to integrate the all-white Montgomery YMCA.

Dees and his law partner soon understood the need for a non-profit organization that dedicated itself to seeking racial justice. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which was founded in 1971, grew out of this vision.

Dees has received many awards, including the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year Award in 1987 and the National Education Association’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award in 1990. The University of Alabama gave him its Humanitarian Award in 1993, and many colleges and universities have awarded him honorary degrees. In addition, the American Bar Association honored him with its Young Lawyers Distinguished Service award and the American Civil Liberties Union conferred him with its Roger Baldwin Award.

Dees has written numerous books, the most recent of which is “Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat.”

Antonia Hernandez

As president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Hernandez, a public interest lawyer, protects the rights of the nation’s Latinos. MALDEF, the most prominent Latino civil rights organization in the country, focuses on immigrant rights, employment discrimination, education inequities, U.S. Census figures, congressional redistricting, voting and language rights.

Hernandez was born in 1948 in northern Mexico and came to the United States with her family when she was eight. She received her bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate from UCLA and graduated from UCLA Law School. She began her legal career as a staff attorney with the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice. Hernandez continued her path in civil rights and became directing attorney for the Lincoln Heights office of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and staff counsel of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

In 1981, Hernandez began work as a staff attorney MALDEF’s Washington office. She was elected the fund’s president in 1985 and is now responsible for managing a budget of almost $6 million, a 75-person staff in offices around the country and litigation and advocacy programs.

Hernandez was among the first seven recipients of the American Bar Association Spirit of Excellence Award in 1996.

Norman Borlaug

In 1970, Borlaug, a leader in improving agricultural techniques and food production in developing nations, became the first agricultural scientist to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Borlaug’s approach to agricultural development began in Mexico in 1944, when he was hired to lead a wheat research program to tackle the nation’s food crisis. During the 1960s, he took a high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat he had developed in Mexico to Asia, where it ended famines in India and Pakistan. Since 1986, he has led an agricultural development program in sub-Saharan Africa in collaboration with former President Jimmy Carter and the Nippon Foundation of Japan.

Borlaug received his B.S. and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. As a college student in 1935-1936, he worked in the Hopkins Memorial Forest in Williamstown, setting up permanent plots in the newly-formed U.S. Forest Service site. Since 1984, Borlaug has been Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University.

Frank Gehry

Gehry’s architecture has been recognized worldwide, and he has received numerous awards, including the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Gehry is a firm believer that “architecture is art.”

“I approach every object as a sculptural object, a spatial container, a space with light and air, a response to context and appropriateness of feeling and spirit, “ he said. “If I can’t do that, I’ve failed.”

Gehry graduated from the University of Southern California and began work with Victor Gruen Associates upon graduation. After a year in the military, he entered the Harvard Graduate School of Design and received a M.A in Architecture in 1957. Afterward, he returned to Los Angeles and worked briefly for the architectural firm Pereira & Luckman before rejoining Gruen. In 1961, he moved to Paris, where he worked for a year and studied works by LeCorbusier and Balthasar Neumann.

In 1962, Gehry returned to Los Angeles and set up his own firm, which produces “built reality” in America, Japan and Europe. Gehry is best-known for his masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Raymond F. Henze III ’74

Henze is the group managing director of Trust Company of the West, which is responsible for providing private equity to corporations in the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America. He has served as president of Pacific Holding Company, a private corporation with interests in consumer products, shipping and real estate.

A 1974 graduate of the College, Dees has remained close to his alma mater. In 1987, he was elected a Trustee of the College and in 1998 he was appointed chair of the board’s Executive Committee for a term that ends in June. He is chair of the board’s Committee on Trustees and has chaired the board’s Alumni Relations and Development and Buildings and Grounds Committees. He has also served on several other Williams committees and in the most recent capital campaign served on the Campaign Planning Committee, co-chaired the National Special Gifts effort, chaired the Los Angeles Special Gifts Committee and was a member of the Los Angeles Major Gifts Committee. He also chaired the 1999-2000 Presidential Search Committee that led to the hiring of Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College.

Henze is a former member of the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni and chair of its Career Counseling Committee. In addition, he is a trustee of Greenwich Academy in Connecticut and chair of its Investment Committee.

Robert Moses

Moses is one of the most influential black leaders of the Southern civil rights struggle. Born in 1935 in Harlem, he graduated from Stuyvesant High School, won a scholarship to Hamilton College and earned an M.A. in philosophy from Harvard University.

During the late 1950s he became increasingly active in the civil rights movement and in 1960 went to Atlanta to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Upon joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Moses spent four years in Mississippi working on increasing black voter registration.

In 1964, he left Mississippi to return to Harvard to complete his doctorate in philosophy. He temporarily changed his name Bob Parris, participated in several rallies against the Vietnam War, and went to Canada to avoid the military draft. He later resumed his graduate studies in philosophy at Harvard and in 1982 received a MacArthur Foundation award to continue his studies. Today he is involved in education reform, particularly Project Algebra, a national mathematics literacy effort that helps students with low-income familial backgrounds and students of color learn the mathematical skills required for citizenship.

Anna Jacobson Schwartz

A pioneer among female economists, Schwartz is an authority on economic history, monetary economics, international monetary systems and monetary statistics. Her writings have been instrumental in establishing the concept that changes in the money supply are the primary cause of changes in general economic conditions.

Born in New York in 1915, Schwartz earned her B.A. from Barnard College and her Ph.D. at Columbia University. She joined the National Bureau of Economic Research in 1941, where she has done most of her research and writing and is now economist emerita. In 1982, she was staff director of the U.S. Gold Commission. She is most widely known for three books on American and British monetary history, which she wrote with Milton Friedman, including “Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960.”

Schwartz has taught at Hunter College, New York University, Baruch College, and Brooklyn College. She has also served on the editorial boards for the American Economic Review, the Journal of Monetary Economics, and the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking.