The University has announced that Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black college, will deliver the keynote address at the 2021 virtual Baccalaureate ceremony.
The Baccalaureate service will take place on the morning of Saturday, May 15. It traditionally features music, interfaith blessings, and a notable guest speaker and “offers a moment of reflection” for graduating students.
Simmons previously served as president of Brown University, becoming the first woman president of Brown and the first Black president of an Ivy League school. Before Brown, Simmons was president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States.
Raised in Grapeland, Texas, Simmons received a bachelor’s degree from Dillard University and a doctoral degree from Harvard. She taught comparative literature and Africana studies at Brown.
While at Brown, Simmons investigated the Brown family’s history with the slave trade. The project led to the Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.
In 1983, Simmons moved to Princeton and served as assistant, then associate, dean of faculty.
At the University, Simmons was the acting director of the Program in African American Studies, now the Department of African American Studies. She also spoke at the 2019 “Thrive” conference for Princeton’s Black alumni.
“Considering what a long-standing tradition Baccalaureate is as a time of reflection, I am very eager to hear from someone with such an esteemed record like Dr. Simmons,” Morgan Smith ’21 wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
“I will never forget seeing Myesha Jemison as the first Black woman to be USG President during my freshman year, so my Princeton journey seems to be coming full circle with the selection of Dr. Simmons as the first African American president of an Ivy League institution,” she added.
After the virtual Baccalaureate, the University will host Class Day on the evening of May 15 and an in-person Commencement on May 16.