Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, is 2017 Commencement Speaker

March 16, 2017

Communications Staff

view of the Oberlin commencement stage
Photo credit: Greg Pendolino

Oberlin College will hold its 2017 commencement ceremony on Monday, May 22, in Tappan Square. The following will receive honorary degrees during the ceremony.


Commencent Speaker, Honorary Doctor of Humanities

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, the nation’s second-largest philanthropy, and for two decades has been a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. He led the philanthropy committee that helped bring a resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy, and he chairs the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance.

Prior to joining Ford, he was vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he managed the rebuild New Orleans initiative after Hurricane Katrina. In the 1990s, as COO of Harlem’s largest community development organization, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, Walker oversaw a comprehensive revitalization program of central Harlem, including more than 1,000 new units of housing. He had a decade-long career in international law and finance at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and UBS. He is a member of the Commission on the Future of Riker’s Island and serves on the boards of Carnegie Hall, New York City Ballet, the High Line, the Arcus Foundation and PepsiCo.

Educated exclusively in public schools, Walker received the “Distinguished Alumnus Award,” the highest honor given by his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. In 2016, TIME magazine named him to its annual list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of 10 honorary degrees and university awards.


Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts

Brenda Way received her early training at the School of American Ballet and Ballet Arts in New York City. Way launched Oberlin Dance Collective as a professional company while on faculty at Oberlin College and contributed to the creation of an inter-arts department that included faculty from both the College and Conservatory of Music before relocating to the Bay Area in 1976.

She is the founder and artistic director of ODC/Dance and creator of the ODC Theater and ODC Dance Commons, community performance and training venues in San Francisco’s Mission District. Throughout the past 45 years, ODC has evolved into a national center for contemporary dance and performance. Their two-building creative campus is home to an internationally known dance company (ODC/Dance), a theater with year-round presenting and mentorship programs (ODC Theater), a training school for dancers and movers of all levels (ODC School), a Pilates Studio, and a fully subsidized Healthy Dancers' Clinic. The ODC campus currently serves 15,000 students a year in a wide variety of dance disciplines and presents some 80 performances annually of regional, national, and international talent.

Way has choreographed more than 90 pieces during the past 46 years. Her major commissions include Unintended Consequences: A Meditation (2008) Equal Justice Society; Life is a House (2008) San Francisco Girls Chorus; On a Train Heading South (2005) CSU Monterey Bay; Remnants of Song (2002) Stanford Lively Arts; Scissors Paper Stone (1994) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Western Women (1993) Cal Performances, Rutgers University, and Jacob’s Pillow; Ghosts of an Old Ceremony (1991) Walker Art Center and the Minnesota Orchestra; Krazy Kat (1990) San Francisco Ballet; This Point in Time (1987) Oakland Ballet; Tamina (1986) San Francisco Performances; and Invisible Cities (1985) Stanford Lively Arts and the Robotics Research Laboratory.

Her work Investigating Grace was named an National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpiece in 2011. Way’s work was selected by the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2010 to tour Southeast Asia as one of four American companies to represent the U.S. in the inaugural State Department DanceMotion program. She is a national spokesperson for dance, has been published widely, and has received numerous awards, including Isadora Duncan Dance Awards for both choreography and sustained achievement, and 40 years of support from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a 2000 recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2009, she was the first choreographer to be a Resident of the Arts at the American Academy in Rome, and in 2012, she received the Helen Crocker Russell Award for Community Leadership from the SF Foundation. Way holds a PhD in aesthetics from Union Graduate School and is the mother of four children.


Honorary Doctor of Humanities

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak works as environmental manager for the Alaska Native Village of Nuiqsut. A mother and grandmother, Ahtuangaruak has been a community health aide/physician assistant, emergency responder, tribal and city council member, participant with the National Tribal Think Tank with CDC/APHA, member of the North Slope Regional Advisory Committee for the federal subsistence board, and a member of the working group of the RISING SUN Arctic Council study of suicide prevention.


Honorary Doctor of Music

Eddie Daniels is that rarest of rare musicians who is not only equally at home in both jazz and classical music, but excels at both with breathtaking virtuosity. Expert testimony from the jazz world comes from eminent jazz critic Leonard Feather, who said of Daniels, “It is a rare event in jazz where one man can all but reinvent an instrument bringing it to a new stage of revolution.”

From the classical side, Leonard Bernstein said, “Eddie Daniels combines elegance and virtuosity in a way that makes me remember Arthur Rubenstein. He is a thoroughly well-bred demon.”

Eddie fist came to the attention of the jazz audience as a tenor saxophonist with the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Orchestra. When Thad and Mel first organized their band in 1966 to play Monday nights at the village Vanguard in New York, where it still plays today, Daniels was one of the first musicians they called. Later that year, he entered the International Competition for Modern Jazz, a contest organized by the pianist Fredrich Gulda and sponsored by the city of Vienna, and won first prize on saxophone. He continued working with Thad and Mel over the next several years and toured Europe extensively with them.

A single clarinet solo recorded on “Live at the Village Vanguard” garnered sufficient attention for him to win Downbeat Magazine’s International Critic’s New Star on Clarinet Award. This conversion to clarinet was not new, for Daniels began clarinet at age 13 and earned a master’s degree at Juilliard. Winning numerous Grammy awards and nominations, Daniels revolutionized the blend of jazz and classical. In January 2014, Daniels won the Grand Prix de L’Academie du Jazz for the Best Jazz Album of the Year for “Duke at the Roadhouse,” his CD with pianist Roger Kellaway. In September 2015, Daniels performed his version of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons at the Detroit Jazz Festival with members of the Detroit Symphony, and in November he premiered composer Charles Fox’s Quintet for Clarinet with the Harlem String Quartet.

Eddie Daniels is clearly a renaissance musician, a virtuoso in both jazz and classical music, and a recipient of unreserved accolades from his peers, from critics, and from the public. His overriding ambition is to reach as many people as possible with his music, to enlarge the audience for both jazz and classical music and, at the same time, to tear down the walls separating them. In Daniels’ hands, the music of Mozart can be as engaging as that of Charlie Parker, and a concert featuring both can be a uniquely rewarding experience for the audience.


Community Service Award

Upon graduation, Josh Rosen '01, Ben Ezinga '01, and Naomi Sabel '02 formed Sustainable Community Associates, a community development firm designed to invigorate main streets and urban neighborhoods in a socially responsible and sustainable way. Defying the "failure to launch" moniker, they chose an abandoned site in downtown Oberlin as their first endeavor, and the results for East College Street are tangible. Today, their development hosts new businesses and mixed-income housing, providing both an expanded tax base and increased opportunities for Oberlin residents.

In addition to ensuring the City of Oberlin continues to realize its potential, SCA has advanced its work within Northeast Ohio with an eye toward the needs of Cleveland's neighborhoods, turning historic and vacant buildings into neighborhood assets. To date, SCA has facilitated the investment of more than $60 million into low-income neighborhoods and earned a deserved reputation for successfully taking on intricate challenges that have stymied other developers. When people ask why they choose the most difficult of projects, they point to their Oberlin experience and the influence their liberal arts education has had on their problem-solving skills, value system, and sense of social justice.

You may also like…

Homecoming and Reunion 2023: The Weekend in Pictures

October 16, 2023

Obie alums spanning generations returned for Homecoming and Reunion at the tail end of September. The gorgeous autumn weekend provided a fitting backdrop for festive celebrations all over campus:...
Two women standing before a football field and a Homecoming banner taking a selfie