Campus News & Events

NASA Selects 2 Proposed Venus Mission Concepts Co-Developed by Gilmore


Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, believes that if scientists are able to measure Venus’s atmosphere and surface, we can better understand the climate, volcanic activity, and the habitability of Earth-size worlds. The selected missions aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like planet after it was potentially another habitable world in the solar system with an Earth-like climate. (Photo by Henry Greenwood)

Two proposed Venus mission concepts co-developed by planetary geologist Martha Gilmore were selected by NASA’s Discovery Program this week. The selected missions aim to understand how Venus became a scorching planet after it was potentially another habitable world in the solar system with an Earth-like climate.

Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is a co-investigator of both winning concepts. Each project will receive approximately $500 million per mission for development and is expected to launch in the 2028–2030 timeframe.

The projects include VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) and DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus).

“Venus is so critical to our understanding of how Earth-sized planets form in our solar system and other solar systems,” Gilmore said. “I can’t wait to see what we know about Venus in 20 years—will we know then that Venus was once covered in oceans? Will we know how the inner planets acquired their water inventory? Will we know how to recognize habitable planets around other stars? Will we find evidence of life there?”

VERITAS, a Venus orbiter, will create high-resolution topography imaging of Venus’s surface and produce the first maps of the planet’s global surface composition. By charting surface elevations of nearly the entire planet, scientists will be able to learn more about the geological history of the planet and why it developed so differently than Earth. VERITAS also will map infrared emissions from Venus’s surface to map its rock type and determine whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere. VERITAS is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

DAVINCI+ is an atmospheric probe that would be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. As the probe plunges into Venus’s thick atmosphere, it would measure the chemical composition, revealing the possibility of a history of water on Venus. In addition, DAVINCI+ will return the first high-resolution pictures of the unique geological features on Venus known as “tesserae,” which may be comparable to Earth’s continents, and, as the oldest terrains on Venus, may record past climates. This will be the first U.S.-led mission to Venus’s atmosphere since 1978.

“Having these two such complementary missions is a dream come true,” Gilmore said. “I’m so happy and look forward to working with our students on this fascinating planet.”

According to NASA, these investigations are the final selections from four mission concepts NASA picked in February 2020 as part of the agency’s Discovery 2019 competition. Following a competitive, peer-review process, Gilmore’s missions “were chosen based on their potential scientific value and the feasibility of their development plans.” The project teams will now work to finalize their requirements, designs, and development plans.

NASA“We’re revving up our planetary science program with intense exploration of a world that NASA hasn’t visited in over 30 years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science in a June 2 press release. “Using cutting-edge technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we’re ushering in a new decade of Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a hothouse. Our goals are profound. It is not just understanding the evolution of planets and habitability in our own solar system, but extending beyond these boundaries to exoplanets, an exciting and emerging area of research for NASA.”

Established in 1992, NASA’s Discovery Program has supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments. These selections are part of the ninth Discovery Program competition.

Gilmore, who also is the co-coordinator of Wesleyan’s Planetary Sciences program, is a fellow of the Geological Society of America, has served on dozens of NASA and National Academy of Sciences-NRC Committees, has mentored more than 20 master’s degree recipients, has served as chair of the Wesleyan’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Venus Exploration Analysis Group, deputy chair of VEXAG, and has a publication record of fundamental research contributions in planetary geoscience, particularly on the geological evolution of the Earth, Venus, and Mars.

In 2020, she received the Randolph W. “Bill” and Cecile T. Bromery Award from the Geological Society of America for her exemplary contributions to research in the geological sciences and for being an instrumental mentor to young people of color.

Matteson ’23 Wins WIDA’s Letter to Biden Contest


Connor Matteson ’23

Connor Matteson ’23 penned an open letter to President Biden as part of the Washington International Diplomatic Academy’s (WIDA) essay contest, which prompted college students to share their views on the role the United States should play globally. Matteson’s letter, titled “The World Needs a Democracy That Educates Its Citizens to Lead It” is one of two winning essays published on WIDA’s website.

“Not just in the realm of democratic ideas, but also in the realm of environmentally sustainable economics, the United States should be a laboratory of tomorrow, a place where forward-thinking leaders from around the world can congregate to observe innovation at work and be inspired to implement positive change in their own societies,” Matteson wrote. “In this way, the United States can continue to project the soft power that will ensure not only its own security and prosperity, but also that of the wider community of nations.”

Matteson, a College of Social Studies major at Wesleyan, emphasized the importance of his generation finding the United States’s proper place in the world.

“There’s historically been a tendency in the foreign policy community to be completely focused on the world’s problems while ignoring the fact that our capacity to effectively and constructively engage with those problems is directly tied to whether we have our own house in order,” Matteson said. “I hope my essay’s win is a sign that this is finally starting to change, because this country is at its best when we lead by example.”

Barnes ’22, Du ’22 Receive ASBMB Undergraduate Research Award

Lily Barnes ’22 and Amy Du ’22 are recipients of the 2021 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Undergraduate Research Award. They will each receive $1,000 to support summer project research. Both students are members of Wesleyan’s ASBMB chapter.

Barnes works in the lab of Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Teresita Padilla-Benavides, and Du works in the lab of Fisk Professor of Natural Science and Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Ishita Mukerji.

Following the research Barnes and Du conduct in their respective labs, each will submit a report to the ASBMB summarizing their findings.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan’s intellectually dynamic faculty, students, alumni, staff, and parents frequently serve as expert sources for national media. Others are noted for recent achievements and accolades. A sampling of recent media hits is below:

May 19
The New York Times — Drama Book Shop, Backed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, to Open in June. Mentions that the new owners are Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 and Thomas Kail ’99.

May 20
New Fairfield Hamlet Hub — Great Hollows announces the addition of Visiting Scientists. Features Robert Clark PhD ’17.

We-ha — Hartford, Connecticut-based Covenant Prep School Will Celebrate Extraordinary Successes at June 5th Reunion. Mentions that “virtually all school alumni have graduated or are now enrolled in college programs, including at Colby College, Connecticut College, Providence College, University of Connecticut, and Wesleyan University.”

May 21
The Middletown Press — Haircuts and Botox: The post-pandemic beauty boom has reached CT. Pictures a Wesleyan student who cut off a ponytail full of hair.

USA Today — Review: Infectious movie musical ‘In the Heights’ joyfully salsas past its shortcomings. Features Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15.

Real Estate Weekly — WHO’S NEWS: Latest appointments, promotions. Mentions that Zach Steinberg ’08 has been promoted to senior vice president of policy for the Real Estate Board of New York and holds a BA in history from Wesleyan.

May 24
NBC News — UNC’s rejection of Nikole Hannah-Jones and the opacity of academic tenure in America. Features an op-ed by Robyn Autry, associate professor of sociology.

The Atlantic — An Unorthodox Strategy to Stop Cars From Hitting Deer: Try wolves. Features Jennifer Raynor, assistant professor of economics.

WRDE — Gunderson Dettmer Announces the 2021 1L Diversity Fellowship Cohort. Mentions Wolfgang Jorde ’16.

Yahoo! — The LatAm funding boom continues as Kaszek raises $1B across a duo of funds. Mentions Wesleyan and Chief Investment Officer Anne Martin.

The Hartford Courant — Middletown riverfront redevelopment to create a ‘vibrant and accessible district’ moves ahead. Mentions City of Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14.

Newsday — Long Island schools announce prom plans, with some moving outside. Mentions that Michael Minars ’25 “will head to Wesleyan University in the fall, majoring in environmental studies.”

The Observer-Dispatch — Teen All-Stars: Jr. Frontiers. Features Kerry Campbell ’25, who will be “attending Wesleyan University on a football commitment.”

May 25
NPR — Wolves scare deer and reduce auto collisions 24%, study says. Quotes Jennifer Raynor, a natural resources economist at Wesleyan University and a co-author of the new study.

DNYUZ — The Native Scholar Who Wasn’t. Features J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American studies.

ARRL — CQ Announces 2021 Hall of Fame Inductees. Mentions Archibald Doty ’42, who “co-founded what is now WESU at Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1939, the second-oldest college radio station in the U.S.”

Boston Globe — Sip These Rhode Island Blends on National Wine Day. Mentions the family of Nancy Parker Wilson ’81.

Yale University — Yale School of Nursing Welcoming More Than a Dozen New Faculty. Mentions film studies major Sarah Lipkin ’06, who will be a part-time lecturer in the women’s health and midwifery programs.

May 26

Register Citizen — Wesleyan graduates class of 2021 in hybrid ceremony. Features Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement.

The Hour — Trumbull High swimmer Lauren Walsh to compete in U.S. Olympic team trials in Omaha. Mentions Wesleyan.

The Unz Review — Flight from White: Yet Another Leftist PoC Lady Grievance Study Professor Is Exposed as White. Features J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American studies.

May 27
The Chronicle for Higher Education — Academic Freedom Is on the Ropes: The attacks are coming from both the right and the left. Quotes Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78.

WTNH Channel 8 — Danbury HS quarterback, star student doesn’t let his speech impediment slow him down in achieving high marks. Features Patrick Rosetti ’25, who is “committed to Wesleyan University with his eyes on being a general surgeon.”

Outside — Running’s Cultural Reckoning Is Long Overdue. Mentions Wesleyan and several alumni.

WORT FM 89.9 — Madison In The Sixties – Bob Dylan. Mentions Fritz DeBoer, who “would spend 34 years as a professor of theater at Wesleyan University, focusing on Asian performance and Balinese dance.”

The American Spectator — Remembering a Stolen Valor Fraudster–Historian This Memorial Day. Features William Manchester Hon. ’02, P’72.

May 28
The Wall Street Journal — ‘Prisoners of History’ Review: The Use and Abuse of the Past. Book review by President Michael Roth ’78.

Yahoo! Life — Yes, ‘In the Heights’ Filmed in New York City—and the Locations Are Authentic to the Story. Mentions Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 who “dreamed up the concept during his days at Wesleyan University.”

Undark — Abstracts. Mentions study by Assistant Professor of Economics Jennifer Raynor.

The Hamlet Hub — Acclaimed Folk Singer Dar Williams returns to The Ridgefield Playhouse on June 25. Features Dar Williams ’89.

May 29
The Bedford Citizen — The 56th Annual CSF of Bedford Dollars for Scholars Awards. Mentions that Katherine Fhu ’25 “will attend Wesleyan University to major in engineering.”

The Courier-Journal — Why Louisville’s Breonna Taylor protests made white people listen. Quotes Steven Moore, an assistant professor of government.

May 31
The Middletown Press — On the Move: Time to honor the true meaning of Memorial Day in Middletown. Mentions Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14, and Wesleyan University, led by President Michael Roth ’78.

June 1
Sweetwater Report — Event Rap, Custom Rap Agency, Smashes Crowdfunding Goal on Kickstarter. Mentions that Baba Brinkman recently released the music video for his latest single “Counterfactual,” commissioned by Wesleyan University Climate Economist Gary Yohe, which highlights the dangers of misinformation about COVID vaccinations, climate science, news, and politics.

June 3
Scientific American — NASA Picks Two Missions to Explore Venus, the First in Decades. Quotes George I. Seney Professor of Geology Martha Gilmore, “a planetary geologist at Wesleyan University, who is part of both mission teams.”

AP News via Business Wire — Brad Frank Joins Korn Ferry as Senior Client Partner. Features Brad Frank ’89.

Marketwire News — Industry Veterans Join Innovation Leader Powering OneStop Customer Apps. Features Tim Harvey ’85 “who has a bachelor’s degree in government from Wesleyan University.”

Lifestyle/ Country Legends 105.9 — Integral Welcomes Theodore Tomasi and Miranda Henning to Company Leadership; Establishes New Economics Practice. Features Miranda Henning ’87 who holds a “BA in environmental science from Wesleyan University.”

June 4
Yale University — Obit of Worth David: Dean of Admissions at Yale for 2 Decades. Features Worth David MALS ’66.

June 5
Art Daily — Hamilton creator celebrates immigrant roots with In the Heights. Features Lin Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 “who is of Puerto Rican descent, and has long advocated for his community in the entertainment world and beyond–wrote the first version of ‘In The Heights’ as a young student at Wesleyan University.”

June 6
The Hartford Courant — NASA selects two Venus missions, co-developed by Wesleyan University professor, to explore Earth’s ‘hellish’ neighbor. Features George I. Seney Professor of Geology Martha Gilmore.

June 7
AI Thority — Moxtra Announces Addition of Head of Global Sales and Chief Financial Officer. Mentions Tim Harvey ’85, chief financial officer, who has a “bachelor’s degree in government from Wesleyan University.”

Mercy College — Mercy College Appoints Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Features Peter West ’94 who has “a bachelor’s degree with honors in English from Wesleyan University.”

Chattanoogan — McCallie Names New Dean Of Enrollment Management. Features Andy Hirt MALS ’19.

June 8
Business Insider — Meet 7 Federal Judges Helping to Decide the Fate of the Capitol Rioters. Mentions John Bates ’68.

View more Wesleyan in the News online here.

Alumni Honored at Virtual Reunion

Each year, Wesleyan’s Alumni Association recognizes an extraordinary group of alumni and members of the Wesleyan community with Alumni Association Awards. These awards recognize individuals who have made remarkable contributions or achievements in their professions, their communities, or the creative arts. Traditionally presented at the Wesleyan Assembly and Annual Meeting during Reunion & Commencement Weekend, the awards this year were presented virtually by President Michael Roth ’78 as part of Virtual Reunion 2021.

The recipients and descriptions are below:

Laurence M. Mark ’71
This producer extraordinaire has garnered not just the industry’s most prestigious nominations and awards, but the deep affection of his audiences. Name any handful of his iconic films—DreamgirlsAs Good as It GetsJerry Maguire—and watch smiles form as we remember the magic.

Pitch perfect, he draws the deepest understanding of what it is to be human from his team. We love his films not only for what we saw, but for how they made us feel.

Dubbed “Wesleyan’s first film major”—even before Wesleyan offered this—he has blazed a trail to the pinnacle of his field with brilliance, intelligence, and generosity, ever willing to return to his alma mater to share his creative journey.

Christopher S. Weaver MALS ’75, CAS ’76
Weaver first arrived on campus nearly four decades ago, eager to pursue the unlikeliest of academic mashups: physics and computer science with Japanese ethnomusicology.

With his flexible intellect and delight in cultivating interdisciplinary connections, he created the gaming art of the future, bringing the laws of physics onto a virtual gridiron, releasing players into infinite possibilities of true-to-life action. But games are also his potent tools, solving the puzzle of traumatized brains, teaching the next generation to make sense of their world.

A practical intellectual and creative scholar-teacher, he is at home in both humanities and technology. His students will be his legacy as he engages with them to forge their own unlikely connections across disciplines and to develop solutions in a future we never could have fathomed.

Christopher J. Graves ’81, P’17
“Combinatorial creativity,” making connections across disparate fields of study, is the superpower he honed at Wesleyan and brought to bear in the world. Rising to the top of two prestigious careers, he’s embarked on a third most crucial one. Founder of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science, he’s become, through intensive research, a leader in the science of effective health communications.

With a focus on vaccine hesitancy—and with clients that include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and a major vaccine maker—it is his unique intelligence, curiosity, dedication, and scholarship that allows researchers to provide key information in ways that constituents can hear, and in turn, make life-saving choices.

Ellen R. Green ’81
Artist, filmmaker, and writer, her brilliant trajectory began even before her honors thesis explored the 1920s discourse on African American art. In her prodigious oeuvre since, she has used different media to examine our perceptions and beliefs, offering conflicting yet simultaneous perspectives that challenge our concept of “otherness.”

Her insights have been revealed and interwoven through installations, books, films, and art. Critics have lauded her work as prescient and compelling. Mesmerized by her questions, visions, and insights, we follow her to find that, not only has she shown us this object, this building, this institution, but also she has brought us to a greater understanding of ourselves.

Spencer Phipps Boyer ’91
If we rest easy on any given night, it is because he is one who is keeping a finger on the pulse of the world. Tapped to be the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe, he serves as a point person for NATO nations, strengthening bonds between allies and instilling confidence as he speaks for our country.

Specialist in public international law and the work of multinational organizations, he has honed his wisdom in legal matters around the world: The Hague, Zurich, and Paris all sites for his work. Prestigious media outlets seek his insight and commentary. Georgetown University, the Brookings Institution, the Obama administration, the Brennan Center for Justice — these and more have been beneficiaries of his leadership and teaching, his collegial spirit and rigorous intellect, his research and analysis of European and Eurasian affairs, Russian influence in Western democracies, and U.S. public diplomacy.

Candace C. Nelson ’96
Pastry chef, entrepreneur, cookbook author, TV celebrity, and philanthropist, she began her career as an investment banker, a likely path for an economics major.

Then, following a passion, she pivoted to the unexpected, creating Sprinkles, a single-item bakery at the height of the low-carb craze. Always an innovator, she’s added cupcake ATMs, reality baking show hosting, and Neapolitan pizza to her repertoire. Her through-theme is a commitment to quality products with investment in the community. In every Sprinkles locale, her philanthropy is uniquely geared to the needs of that region.

She has inspired others with her entrepreneurial enthusiasm, fearless innovation, and mouthwatering success, and always placed philanthropy as an essential ingredient in her business plan.

The James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award
Established in 1959 by the class of 1936 in memory of James L. McConaughy Jr. ’36, the James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award recognizes a member of the Wesleyan family (including students, faculty, alumni, parents and members of their respective families) whose writing or other creative achievement conveys unusual insight and understanding of current and past events.

Bruce Eric Kaplan ’86
Author, television writer, and producer of work that captures the zeitgeist; cartoonist whose drawings encapsulate our struggles in a single frame. His characters on screen and page mirror our secret anxieties: we live in unusually fraught times; we have reason to be insecure, life abounds with disappointments. Yet his art renews our courage and cheers us.

Through pulling back the curtain on his own angst and ours, he bridges the isolation we have felt as sole keepers of these fears. Through cheerfully acknowledging our quite valid causes for pessimism, he teases out the charm and humor of our collective foibles.

Kirsten Kimberly Greenidge ’96
Boston’s playwright laureate, she is prolific in her work, reaching the critically acclaimed heights of garnering both Obie and PEN/Laura Pels awards. With a focus on the complex intersection of race, class, and gender, she writes at the place we stand in our history, in our hopes, and in our contemporary quandaries. She breathes her complicated characters into their life upon the stage with an honesty, a vibrancy that both delights us and challenges any pat response.

As a writer-in-residence, she engages in dialogue, provides roles that offer multi–dimensionality for those previously overlooked, and provokes change in our core expectations. As a professor, she fosters within the heart of each student a creative dynamic that reveals an indelible story of resilient characters.

Outstanding Service Award
The Outstanding Service Award is presented to alumni, parents or other members of the Wesleyan community in recognition of outstanding volunteer service to the University, their community or the nation. Awards are traditionally presented at the Wesleyan Assembly and Annual Meeting during Reunion & Commencement Weekend.

Neil J. Clendeninn ’71 MD, PhD
Class leader, physician, professor, pharmaceutical and biotech researcher, architect, lifelong learner: Clendeninn is unique in his wide-ranging talents. Bold, committed undergraduate, his activism on behalf of Black students forged a firm path for those seeking a medical career, a legacy that endures in the annual award founded in his name. Brilliant, inspired researcher, his critical work helped transform AIDS into a treatable illness and continues to tame humanity’s scourges. Creative urban planner, his vision enriches the Hawaiian city of Lihue.

Throughout all, his service to Wesleyan inspires us: class secretary through decades, he fostered our vital connections to each other and alma mater; as trustee, Clendeninn’s wisdom has girded University goals; As reunion planner, he’s strengthened bonds through celebratory homecoming.

David M. Rabban ’71
A university can be only as strong and true as the people who nurture it. Rabban’s energy and service have fostered not only Wesleyan but also universities across our country.

Friend and scholar, the voice of sound reason in any debate, his name is top-of-the-list when classmates seek a cohort to discuss matters of consequence. A former chair of the Alumni Association, ex-officio member of the Board, tireless contributor to committees that inform our governance, his good sense and deep affection for Wesleyan and its diverse constituents have helped to shape wisdom-driven actions across decades.

Distinguished author and professor of law and legal scholar, his scholarship on the history of free speech and the law have helped reshape our understanding of the constitutional underpinnings we hold dear. His extensive commitments to Wesleyan and the American Association of University Professors have demonstrated devotion to academic freedom and civil discourse throughout all institutions of higher education.

Perseverance, Pride, Progress Characterize 189th Commencement

CLass of 2021

Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement Ceremony was held on May 26. More than 700 students received degrees from Wesleyan. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Twin brothers Jake Kwon ’21 and Jack Kwon ’21 celebrate their graduation. (Photo by Tom Dzimian)

(Written by Katie Aberbach with contributions from Himeka Curiel, Allie Otlowski, and Sam O’Neill.)

Perseverance, pride, progress, and graduating during a unique moment in history were on the minds of the hundreds of graduates and their families at Wesleyan University’s 189th Commencement ceremony on Wednesday.

“It was a difficult year,” said Aidar Raev ’21, a Posse Veteran from Kyrgyzstan who majored in the College of Social Studies with minors in international relations and Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies. (The Posse Veterans program supports veterans of the United States armed forces who are earning bachelor’s degrees at American universities.) Raev decided to study remotely during the spring semester but returned to campus to walk in Commencement.

“It was important to me to be here today,” he said, as he prepared to line up for the traditional procession onto Andrus Field. “I’m a first-generation American; my parents got degrees in the Soviet Union but I got naturalized here in America when I joined the military.” Completing his degree was “a 13-year journey.”

Julio Evans '21

Julio Evans ’21

Nearby on Foss Hill, Julio Evans ’21 described a similar feeling of accomplishment. “I’m a first-generation college graduate, so being here at Commencement today means breaking a lot of chains for my family and starting a legacy,” he said. An American studies major and Caribbean studies minor from Brooklyn, Evans said he planned to move to Miami after graduation to pursue his interests in political activism and social justice by working as a peer advocate.

In Commencement Address, President Roth Expresses Pride in “Courageous” Class of 2021


Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 made remarks during the 189th Commencement Ceremony on May 26. (Photo by Tom Dzimian)

From an excitement-filled Arrival Day to the unpredictable final three semesters of campus life that unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic, “so much has changed in your lives since you were first introduced to Wesleyan,” President Michael Roth ’78 said in his remarks to the graduating Class of 2021, who sat in front of him on Andrus Field in a socially distanced 189th Commencement.

Besides the obvious impacts of the pandemic, Roth was referring to social and political divisiveness in the country, which has increased in recent years, “exacerbated by” irresponsible media platforms. “Attacks on those considered ‘outsiders’ are a sick symptom of this addiction to outrage,” he said, “but so are the insidious tendencies of many to stop listening to people they deem to be failing some sort of political litmus test.”

Yet, Roth said, “we should take heart from the efforts made by so many across the country, and right here on campus, to rebuild trust, to create caring communities.” Reminding the graduates that “we are counting on you” to take on “new challenges beyond the university,” Roth expressed pride in—and awe for—the Class of 2021.

Chong ’21 Talks Solidarity Amid Hardship in Senior Class Welcome: “Juxtaposition”

Chong '21

Bryan Chong ’21 delivered the Senior Class Welcome during the 2021 Commencement. (Photo by Tom Dzimian)

Bryan Chong ’21, a double major in government and psychology, delivered the Senior Class Welcome at Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement.

In a speech that was at moments emotional and rousing, Chong reflected on “an extraordinary year that has restructured the ways we socialize.” He emphasized the ways that this time of “generation-defining change” has challenged students to re-examine their time at Wesleyan and the juxtaposition of coming together in unexpected community despite being forced apart by the pandemic. “Many say that we discover our true selves during times of crisis,” he said. “This year, I discovered that amidst all the chaos and change, it is exactly from the abolition of division where Wesleyan’s true identity emerged as a site of solidarity.”

Chong was motivated to submit his speech for consideration to capture the communal experience of persevering through crisis and to “emphasize the beauty of our collective journey through this difficult year,” encouraging his peers to carry those lessons forward. “It is a great honor and joy for me to be able to highlight the special moments that showed how we endured crisis by standing strong together,” he said.

Betts Reflects on Time, “What We Owe Each Other” in 2021 Commencement Address

Reginald Dwayne Betts delivered the 2021 Commencement Address during Wesleyan's 189th Commencement Ceremony on May 26.

Reginald Dwayne Betts delivered the 2021 Commencement Address. (Photo by Tom Dzimian)

Award-winning poet, memoirist, scholar, and social justice advocate Reginald Dwayne Betts delivered the 2021 Commencement Address during Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement Ceremony on May 26.

In a powerful speech tinged with moments of humor, Betts focused on the theme of time and understanding our duty as part of an expansive community that includes lesser-seen members outside the traditional campus. Reflecting on how “these [COVID-19] pandemic days have turned time different,” Betts drew parallels to his own past history and that of other currently or previously incarcerated individuals, including eight students from Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education program, who were among those earning bachelor of liberal studies degrees this year. He referenced the pandemic’s isolating effect on the graduates’ final year at Wesleyan and acknowledged the work they had done “of believing that education matters enough to keep doing it even as the world is falling apart,” and reassuring them that “this is just a start to figuring out what you’re meant to do in the world, but what a glorious start it is.”

As a 16-year-old, Betts was sentenced to nine years in a maximum security prison, during which time he studied literature and poetry, laying the groundwork for a career path that would include a BA, an MFA, a JD, and soon a PhD, as well as a National Magazine Award–winning essay in The New York Times Magazine, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA Fellowships, and years of work in public defense, advocacy, and public service. He is also the founder and director of The Million Book Project, which “harnesses the power of literature to counter what prison does to the spirit.” During the ceremony, Betts was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from Wesleyan.

Betts’s remarks are below:

Thank you to the Board of Trustees and President Roth. This is a true and rare honor and I am grateful.

Flowers Speaks about “Listening,” Environmental Justice at 2021 Commencement

Catherine Coleman Flowers

Catherine Coleman Flowers delivered her Commencement remarks virtually.

After being named a 2021 recipient of Wesleyan’s honorary doctor of science degree, Catherine Coleman Flowers delivered a pre-recorded speech thanking the University for the honor and exhorting Wesleyan’s Class of 2021 to go forth and “quickly dismantle the historical and structural inequities that have existed in this country since its inception.”

Flowers, a native of Lowndes, Alabama, gained national recognition through her tireless efforts to bring attention to failing water and waste sanitation infrastructure in rural areas (beginning with her hometown), in so doing highlighting structural inequities that perpetuate health and socioeconomic disparities. For her work, Flowers was awarded a 2020 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship, and was recently appointed to the Biden-Sanders Task Force on Climate Change.

In the 2018 documentary series The Accidental Environmentalist, Flowers explained her activism by saying, “I’m an environmentalist because you cannot talk about the environment and not talk about health; you can’t talk about the environment and not talk about how we treat nature. Part of environmental science is knowing about waste water, and how you treat it. And how it impacts the environment, how it impacts the water bodies. All of that [is] connected. . . . Some people think you’re only an environmentalist if you care about polar bears, but if you care about people, if you care about land, if you care about God’s creation, you’re an environmentalist. And I’m very very interested in what we do for seven generations to come in terms of leaving a perfect place for our children to live.”

As the founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, an Alabama-based policy and advocacy organization devoted to addressing the root causes of poverty in the state, Flowers is committed to developing multidisciplinary, grassroots solutions and models that can be replicated in rural communities throughout the country.

Betts, Flowers, Gottlieb ’94 Receive Honorary Degrees

During Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement on Wednesday, May 26, the University presented three honorary degrees to Reginald Dwayne Betts, Catherine Coleman Flowers, and Scott Gottlieb ’94 for their significant contributions to the social, environmental, and public health of the United States.

Roth and Reginald Dwayne Betts

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 and Reginald Dwayne Betts Hon. ’21

Reginald Dwayne Betts, who also delivered this year’s Commencement address, was named an honorary doctor of letters in recognition of his impact and influence as a poet, scholar, and advocate and for his “perseverance . . . poetic sensibilities, and embrace of education to empower life [and] use of that empowerment and those sensibilities to improve the lives of others.”

An award-winning author and memoirist, Betts is also the founder and director of the Million Book Project, a social justice initiative that seeks to extend meaningful and transformative access to books (on poetry, literature, history, social thought, and other curated topics) for incarcerated people across the prison system and to increase their engagement with the literary community.

Himself sentenced to nine years in maximum security prison at age 16, Betts has since earned a BA from the University of Maryland, an MFA from Warren Wilson College, a JD from Yale Law School, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Law at Yale University. He has received an appointment from Governor Ned Lamont to Connecticut’s Criminal Justice Commission, the state body that hires all state prosecutors, and he continues to lecture on his formative experiences and the importance that grit, perseverance, and literature have played in his success, as well as the intersection between literature and advocacy.

3 Professors Honored with 2021 Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching


At left, Provost Nicole Stanton and Wesleyan President Michael Roth congratulate Sonali Chakravarti, associate professor of government, on being a recipient of a Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

Every spring, Wesleyan recognizes outstanding teaching with three Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, as well as current juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year, Wesleyan honors the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:

Sonali Chakravarti

Sonali Chakravarti

Sonali Chakravarti
Sonali Chakravarti, associate professor of government, came to Wesleyan in 2009. Her work focuses on questions of emotions, the law, and democratic institutions. Chakravarti is the author of two books—Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life (University of Chicago Press, 2019) and Sing the Rage: Listening to Anger After Mass Violence (University of Chicago Press, 2014)—as well as numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters in publications including Political Theory and the Journal of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. At Wesleyan, she teaches courses including What Is the Good Life?, The Moral Basis of Politics, Transitional Justice, and Acting and Citizenship, among others. She served on the Educational Policy Committee in 2019–20, and on the faculty board of the Fries Center for Global Studies in 2018–19. In 2014, she was awarded Wesleyan’s Baker Memorial Prize. Chakravarti has been the Ann Plato Post-Doctoral Fellow at Trinity College and Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. She earned a BA in political science from Swarthmore College, and an MA, an MPhil, and a PhD in political science from Yale University.