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Human rights lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson to deliver Emory Commencement address

Human rights lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson will deliver the keynote address at Emory University's 175th Commencement, scheduled for Monday, May 11. Photo: Rog and Bee Walker

Acclaimed human rights lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, will deliver the keynote address at Emory University's 175th Commencement, scheduled for Monday, May 11.

Stevenson, whose 2014 memoir, “Just Mercy,” has been made into a major motion picture, also will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the event. 

“Bryan Stevenson has worked tirelessly to confront systemic racism and injustice and to inspire all people to do the same,” says Emory President Claire E. Sterk. “We are delighted to honor his unflagging efforts to challenge and overcome inequality.”

Under Stevenson’s leadership, the EJI has won major legal cases eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. 

Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the U.S. Supreme Court; Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row, and relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced. 

Stevenson also led the creation of two nationally acclaimed cultural sites that opened in Montgomery in 2018: The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. 

Stevenson is the recipient of numerous awards, including a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant; the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor; the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union; and the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize from the King Center in Atlanta, among others. He serves as professor of law at the New York University School of Law. 

Honorary degree recipients

Emory will confer honorary degrees to two individuals at the commencement ceremony:

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi is a virologist and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008 for her contributions to HIV/AIDS research and as a co-discoverer of HIV. She is emeritus professor at the Institut Pasteur in Paris and emeritus director of research at Inserm, the only public research organization in France entirely dedicated to human health. Currently, she heads the Regulation of Retroviral Infection Unit at the Institut Pasteur. Her team’s current research efforts are focused on mechanisms required to protect against HIV/SIV infections or controlling AIDS, in particular at the level of innate immunity. She is the past president of the International AIDS Society and co-chair of the society’s Towards an HIV Cure initiative.

Alison Singer is co-founder and president of the Autism Science Foundation. The mother of a child with autism and legal guardian for her adult brother with autism, she has served on the national Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which is charged with writing a strategic plan to guide federal spending for autism research. She also serves on the external advisory board of the Marcus Autism Center at Emory, as well as the board of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. She played a critical role in the passage of the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which authorized the doubling of federal funding for autism research.

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