Second lady of United States to give Commencement Address

Oriana Sengos

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the vice president of the United States, will address the Class of 2014 at this year’s commencement ceremony on May 16, according to an annoncement this morning  by Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., and the White House. Biden is a graduate of the University.

Each year, Donohue meets with a committee of faculty, students and alumni to create a list of potential speakers. The committee meets in September to refine the list and decide who will be asked to speak this year. 

Biden is a member of the University’s class of 1991. She received her master of arts degree in English. At commencement, she will be receiving the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa.  

“She has been on the list for a while by the very fact that she was a graduate,” Donohue said. “We had asked her a couple of years ago but she had already committed to speak at another commencement.”

Biden is a mother, grandmother and lifelong educator. She holds a Doctorate in Education from the University of Delaware two Master’s Degrees-one in English from the University and the other in reading from West Chester University-and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Delaware. 

 “I’m excited that she is an educator,” Donohue said. “She still teaches at a community college.” 

Biden is currently a full-time professor at a community college in Virginia and is extremely active in her community. Some of her work brings attention to the importance of community colleges to the future of our country, sacrifices made by military families and issues related to women such as breast cancer prevention. 

Her work with community colleges across the country has gained significant attention. She works to emphasize the critical role that community colleges play in creating America’s workforce. She hosted the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges with President Obama in 2010. She continues to work on behalf of the administration for community colleges. 

Biden has used her personal experiences as a military mom to help her shed light on the courage of military families and the daily hardships they face. She travels regularly to military bases and has authored a children’s book titled, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops,” which was inspired by a military family’s experience during the father’s deployment. 

Other initiatives that Biden has worked on include Joining Forces, an effort to engage military families in their own communities, an organization she co-founded with First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011 and the Biden Breast Health Initiative in Delaware, which she started in 1993. This organization has educated over 10,000 high school girls about the importance of early detection of breast cancer.

Her philanthropic work spans many categories and the work she does helps many individuals across the country.  

“It’s a really special thing to actually have someone who went to school here in such a high position,” Donohue said of Biden’s selection as commencement speaker. “It is really great for us.”

Due to Biden’s high position there is sure to be some slight low-key changes to the security structure of the weekend. 

Two other individuals will be receiving honorary degrees from the University at the commencement ceremony.  Harry Dietzler, a long-time youth theater and performing arts innovator will receive the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa. Dietzler is a native of Upper Darby Township and founded the Upper Darby Summer Stage, a summer theater program for young people and currently one of the most successful youth theater programs in the country. 

Dietzler currently serves as Artistic Executive Director for the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center which supports school and community performances and also presents professional children’s theater, music and dance to students. 

The second honorary degree recipient will be Rev. Robert F. Prevost, O.S.A., who is the former two-term Prior General of the Augustinian Order. He will receive the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa as well. 

Prevost was a student in the pre-novitiate formation program at he University and graduated from the University with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1977. 

He  was elected Prior Provincial of the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Peru in 1999 and two years later was elected to a six-year term as Prior General, the worldwide leader of the Augustinian Order. In 2007 he was elected to a second term and served for six more years. Prevost is currently the Director of Formation at St. Augustine Firary in Chicago. This year, commencement will be a day earlier than it has been in recent years.

 “Everything was really kind of spread out,” Donohue said. “We felt we just needed to condense it all.”

The number of students from outside of the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area increases every year. Individuals had voiced their concerns about the weekend becoming long and often an expensive endeavor.  Condensing the weekend was more economical and will give students and their families more time at the end of the weekend to stay or travel back home without having the events drawn out. 

“It’s a really special thing to actually have someone who went to school here in such a high position,” Donohue said. “It is really great for us.”

The new structure of the weekend will also be new for students. 

“We’ll see how this new structure goes,” Donohue said. “Campus will be very celebratory. “

Despite the celebrations that are in store, Donohue feels a bittersweet sadness to see another class off. 

“It’s a wonderful weekend,” Donohue said. “It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the achievements of these young women and men who have been part of this community for four years and to acknowledge what they have done for Villanova and what they will do after Villanova.” 

The University’s 171st commencement ceremony will be held on Friday, May 16 at 4 p.m. in the Villanova Stadium.