Five Honorary Degrees to be Presented on May 14


The University Baccalaureate service for the College Class of 2020 will be held Saturday, May 14, in All Saints’ Chapel at 10 a.m.

Five honorary degrees will be presented during the service, to Susan Binkley, the founder and president of Blue Monarch; Emory Shaw Campbell, president of Gullah Heritage Consulting Service; renowned ragtime/boogie-woogie pianist Bob Milne, founder and director of the Frankenmuth Ragtime Festival; Jack Murrah, former president of the Lyndhurst Foundation; and poet, novelist, biographer, screenwriter, and critic Jay Parini, D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College. More information about each recipient is below.

Jay Parini will deliver the Baccalaureate address. Parini is a poet, novelist, biographer, screenwriter, and critic. His six books of poetry include “New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015” and “The Art of Subtraction.” He has written eight novels, including “Benjamin’s Crossing,” “The Apprentice Lover,” and “The Last Station,” which was made into an Academy Award-nominated film starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. He has written biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, William Faulkner, Jesus, and Gore Vidal. His nonfiction works include “The Art of Teaching,” “Why Poetry Matters,” “Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America,” “The Way of Jesus,” and, most recently, a memoir titled “Borges and Me: An Encounter.” Parini adapted his Gore Vidal biography with director Michael Hoffman into a feature film starring Kevin Spacey and Michael Stuhlbarg. He taught at Dartmouth College from 1975 to 1982, and has taught since 1982 at Middlebury College, where he is the D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing.

Susan Binkley is the founder and president of Blue Monarch, a nonprofit, long-term residential recovery program for women and their children who are dealing with addiction, domestic violence, and economic hardship. A Tennessee native, Binkley earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Tennessee, after which she directed the Leu Gallery at Belmont College, while her own artwork was represented by Cumberland Gallery in Nashville. In addition to Blue Monarch, Binkley has developed a variety of businesses, including Xanadu Farm, a horse-boarding operation and vacation cottage; the Blue Chair, a bakery and café in Sewanee; and Out of the Blue Granola, which is distributed throughout the Southeast. Since 2003, Blue Monarch has created a unique and successful program that focuses on recovery for mothers and their children, with a strong emphasis on sober parenting and the reunification of mother and child. Through the program, hundreds of children have been reunited with healthier mothers who had previously lost custody.

Emory Shaw Campbell was born in 1941 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He is an example of a native son who left his early environment and later returned not only as a leader but also as a visionary and proponent of constructive programs and policies. After earning an M.A. at Tufts University in Boston, he returned to South Carolina to work at the Comprehensive Health Agency for Beaufort and Jasper counties. For almost 10 years, he traveled throughout the Sea Islands, addressing environmental issues that affect the daily lives of the islands’ people. His goal was to promote methods of preserving and enhancing the unique and rich Gullah heritage in the face of rapid development on the islands. In 1980, Campbell became the executive director of the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. He vigorously embarked on a program to revive the center’s historical significance and to preserve the culture of the Sea Islands. He is currently president of Gullah Heritage Consulting Service, conducting institutes on Gullah cultural heritage and related issues through lectures, short courses, and the Gullah Heritage Trail Tours on Hilton Head Island.

Bob Milne is considered to be the best ragtime/boogie-woogie pianist in the world. He was filmed and documented for future generations in 2004 during three days of interviews at the Library of Congress, and was declared a national treasure. Milne is an active musical ambassador for the U.S. State Department and has performed numerous times in Japan, including in the Okinawan Islands and Hokkaido. He has also performed in this capacity for members of the Swiss Parliament at the U.S. embassy in Berne. Playing in concert halls since 1991, Milne performs worldwide, averaging around 250 performances per year. He is highly sought after for both his virtuosic piano playing and his easygoing, modest presentations.

Jack Murrah is the former president of the Lyndhurst Foundation, a private foundation that provides support for environmental conservation, public school reform, downtown and inner-city revitalization, and cultural activities, primarily in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. After graduating from public high school in Birmingham, Ala., Murrah attended Vanderbilt University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1971. He later earned a master’s degree in English from Middlebury College. Between 1970 and 1978, he taught high school at the Alabama Boys’ Reform School, the Chamberlain-Hunt Military Academy in Mississippi, and Baylor School in Chattanooga. In 1978, he joined the staff of the Lyndhurst Foundation, where he served as a program officer, executive director, and, from 1989 to 2010, as president. For more than 30 years, Murrah led Chattanooga and the state of Tennessee in forceful and innovative directions in art and culture, influencing the way Tennesseans live in cities, how children are educated, and how artists are supported. He was instrumental in the establishment of the South Cumberland Community Fund, a philanthropic organization serving Grundy, Marion, and Franklin counties.

There will be a book and CD signing with Emory Shaw Campbell, Bob Milne and Jay Parini at 4–4:45 p.m., Friday, May 13, at McGriff Alumni House. Come enjoy coffee and conversation with three of the honorary degree candidates.

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