February 9, 2022
Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,
I am pleased to announce that Deborah Bial, founder and president of The Posse Foundation, will deliver the keynote address at our 104th Commencement on Sunday, May 22, 2022.
Bial, winner of a 2007 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, is a leader in the field of college access, persistence, and student success. Her experience in advancing equity, diversity, and talent at selective colleges and universities—and in creating solutions towards more equitable admissions—has gained her national prominence in higher education administration.
Bial received her bachelor of arts in American and English Literature from Brandeis University in 1987. Two years later, she started a new organization she would call “Posse,” after hearing a student lament that he would never have left college if he had found his posse. Her idea was to partner with selective colleges and help them bring teams, or posses, of talented student leaders from the same city to pursue higher education on their campuses. That simple idea would turn into one of the most successful college leadership programs in the country. Since 1989, The Posse Foundation has sent over 10,000 students to 60 partner colleges, institutions that have collectively provided more than $1.6 billion in merit scholarships. In 2010, President Obama named Posse as one of 10 nonprofits that would share his Nobel Prize.
By then, Bial had gone on to receive both masters and doctoral degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Today, she is a member of the Brandeis Board of Trustees, where she chairs the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. She also sits on the Board of Directors at Xometry, Inc.
As part of the Commencement ceremony, the College will award Bial a doctor of humane letters honoris causa, a degree that reflects her lifelong commitment to fostering campus environments where students thrive, reach their potential, and contribute to others’ flourishing—what we like to call full participation.
Bial’s presence will be especially meaningful in a year when Connecticut College has welcomed a talented Posse alumna, Erika J. Smith, as our new dean of the College. Among our own notable Posse alumni leaders are Chakena Sims Perry ’16, winner of Posse’s 2020 Ainsley Alumni Achievement Award; Maurice Tiner ’17, Director of Race and Ethnicity Programs at Connecticut College; and Christian Vasquez ’19, one of the inaugural Ubben fellows who now works directly with Bial in the Posse Foundation offices.
Connecticut College’s partnership with Posse began in 2008—when we selected our very first group of students from Chicago—and expanded in 2020 with the introduction of a second Posse from New York City. By May, a total of 95 scholars will have graduated from the College since 2012. This is a milestone we can celebrate together as we honor Deborah Bial.
I am grateful to the Commencement Speaker Committee for their thoughtful deliberation: co-chairs Lauren Middleton and Ava Ernst ’22; students Piper Burke ’22, Elizabeth Lopez ’22, and Long Ta ’22; and faculty and staff members Anne Bernhard, Luci Chaplin, Marc Forster, Ayako Takamori, and Tiffany Thiele.
It will be a pleasure to welcome Deborah Bial to Connecticut College for our 104th Commencement.