Audra Wilson to speak at class of 2021 commencement

Jess Kaplan, Print Managing Co-Editor

Audra Wilson ’94, president and chief executive officer of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, will return to Lewisburg this May to speak at the Class of 2021’s commencement ceremony, a University statement revealed on Monday, Feb. 22.

As an undergraduate, Wilson studied International Relations and Spanish at the University before pursuing a JD from Valparaiso University School of Law. Wilson credits her time at the University as foundational to her later activist work. “I was inspired to learn how to speak out and be a more active citizen,” she said in an interview with the University. “Making sure every individual feels empowered to do that — that’s what my work is all about.”

Wilson began her career as a staff attorney at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, an organization that combats racial and economic injustices in Illinois through litigation and policy shaping. Her work drew the attention of then-senator Barack Obama, who asked her to serve as the press and policy director for his U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

After the Senate race, Wilson returned to her roots in public advocacy as Director of Diversity Education and Outreach and Adjunct Professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. While at Northwestern, she co-founded the first consortium of diverse law school professionals in Chicago. In 2013, Wilson accepted a position as Deputy Chief of Staff for United States Congresswoman Robin Kelly, combining her passion for politics and public service. Wilson also served as Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, where she advanced research-based policy solutions to advance voting rights. In May 2020, Wilson was named the president and CEO of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

Wilson was chosen as this year’s speaker by members of the graduating class. Senior class president Kip Hallagan ’21 chose Wilson because her exemplary character and numerous accomplishments exemplify the mission of the University. “As we strive for a more just world, we can look to the lives of Bucknellians who have already made strides. Ms. Wilson’s vision for a better world is something we can all aspire to in our post-graduation lives.”

University President John Bravman concurred, noting that Wilson’s work epitomizes the goals of a liberal arts curriculum. “Her liberal arts education prepared her for an exceptional career devoted to lifting up those most in need of help. As more Americans learn about everyday injustice and engage in conversations focused on reducing inequality, Audra is a bold and clear voice for meaningful change,” Bravman said.

The University’s 171st Commencement is scheduled for May 23, but is subject to change based on pandemic conditions. Nevertheless, in an email to the class of 2021 Bravman promised that “regardless of the form Commencement takes, we are committed to honoring your hard work and graduation from Bucknell in the very best way possible.”

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