March 26, 2019

Commencement 2019: Leading Human Rights Voices to Receive Honorary Degrees

Important information for CGU's 92nd Commencement
CGU's 92ND COMMENCEMENT IS COMING: This year's honorary degree recipients will be human rights advocates Bev Palesa Ditsie, Betsy Levy Paluck, and Laughlin McDonald.

Three individuals recognized as prominent figures in human rights leadership and scholarship will take the stage this spring as honorary doctoral degree recipients at the university’s 92nd annual commencement ceremony.

Commencement will take place May 18 at 9:00 am on the Mudd Quadrangle, located along 10th Street on the north lawn of the Honnold/Mudd Library. Visit CGU’s campus map here.

The Registrar’s Office anticipates that more than 300 master’s and doctoral candidates will receive their degrees at this year’s ceremony.

Honorary doctorates will be conferred on acclaimed South African activist Bev Palesa Ditsie, who was the first African lesbian to ever address gay and lesbian rights before a United Nations conference; MacArthur Fellow Betsy Levy Paluck, who has tested strategies of conflict and violence resolution on the ground in Rwanda; and Laughlin McDonald, who has been at the center of major cases involving voter access and equality as the longtime director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Ditsie will be the featured speaker at this spring’s commencement exercises.

Visit here for more on Commencement, related events, transportation, parking and other information.

Commencement Forum:
“Interconnectivity” & “Activity hubs”

On the Friday evening prior to commencement, graduates, their families, and the public are invited to the annual Commencement Forum, an event comprising a champagne toast to the graduates, a panel discussion, student awards, and interactive academic displays.

Ditsie, Paluck, and McDonald will participate in a special forum organized by CGU’s Transdisciplinary Studies Program and moderated by Associate Provost and Transdisciplinary Studies Director Andrew Vosko.

Focusing on the theme of “interconnectivity,” this year’s forum will explore the many ways in which a society is drawn together and defines itself; the global reach of social justice work in localized societies; and the ways that activism, leadership and scholarship empower individuals to change society.

A featured element of this year’s forum will be “activity hubs,” which will provide another way for forum attendees to consider the connections among people and societies.

Some of these hubs—which will be stationed around the event—will include the Paul Gray Personal Computing Museum on how technology connects us; and others about the unifying and connecting power of the written word and visual art.

The forum will be held on Friday, May 17 at 4:00 pm at the home of President Len Jessup, 709 Harvard Ave., Claremont. The event is free and open to the public. Read more about this year’s honorary degree recipients below.


Honorary Degree Recipients:


South African activist Bev Palesa Ditsie
South African activist Bev Palesa Ditsie

Bev Palesa Ditsie
(Commencement address speaker)

Bev Palesa Ditsie captured the world’s attention in the 1990s when, in addressing a United Nations World Conference on Women,  she told the assembled members that they must “recognize that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a violation of basic human rights.” Her comments marked the first time that an African lesbian advocated on behalf of gay and lesbian rights before a UN conference assembly.

Starting out as an actor at the age of 10 and as a prominent queer rights activist at the age of 17, Ditsie has explored the impact of television on society both as a freelance director and independent filmmaker. In addition to her work in human rights advocacy in South Africa and beyond, Ditsie is an artist and a television writer/director known for her documentaries and for directing reality shows and series including Project Runway South Africa.

A resident of Johannesburg, South Africa, and a recipient of GALA’s Lifetime Achievement and Feather of the Year awards, Ditsie has sought to produce content that educates and affirms her fellow black South Africans. She has also played a key role in the founding of the gay rights organization GLOW as well as in organizing South Africa’s first Gay Pride March in Johannesburg.

During apartheid, Ditsie also played an important role in ensuring that LGBTI rights were recognized in the South African constitution.


Macarthur Fellow and researcher on violence and conflict Betsy Levy Paluck
MacArthur Fellow and researcher on violence and conflict Betsy Levy Paluck

Betsy Levy Paluck

When it comes to addressing and ameliorating discrimination, bullying, and ethnic conflict, Betsy Levy Paluck has been a leader in testing out new strategies and methodologies in real-world environments ranging from the halls of American high schools to post-conflict Rwanda.

A 2017 MacArthur Fellow, Paluck is a professor in the Department of Psychology and in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Her research encompasses the reduction of prejudice and conflict, including ethnic and political conflict, youth conflict in schools, and violence against women. She uses large-scale field experiments to test interventions that target individuals’ perceived norms and behavior about conflict and tolerance, including mass media and peer-to-peer interventions.

Paluck’s translation of theories into real-world interventions has made significant progress in identifying the most effective means for influencing individuals and group behavior in positive ways.

In addition to the MacArthur, Paluck has received the Sage Young Scholars award, the Cialdini Award for field research, and an Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association.


Voting Rights Project Emeritus Director Laughlin McDonald
Voting Rights Project Emeritus Director Laughlin McDonald

Laughlin McDonald

For more than four decades, Laughlin McDonald has been a major force and champion of voter access and representation as the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.

A South Carolina native, McDonald became the project’s director in 1972 and currently serves as special counsel and the project’s director emeritus. Prior to his involvement with the Project, McDonald was in private practice and taught at the University of North Carolina Law School. He received a BA degree from Columbia University and an LLB from the University of Virginia.

McDonald has represented minorities in numerous discrimination cases and specialized in the area of voting rights. He has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and in numerous district courts and courts of appeals, testified frequently before Congress, and has written for scholarly and popular publications on a variety of civil liberties issues.

McDonald is the author of several books, including A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia, and American Indians and the Fight for Equal Voting Rights.