Two small Kentucky colleges have scored big name graduation speakers this spring: At Berea College, civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, and at Centre College, best-selling author J.D. Vance of Hillbilly Elegy fame.
Lewis will speak at Berea’s graduation on May 7 at 2 p.m. at the Seabury Center in Berea. Lewis was one of the “Big Six” of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and has been a Georgia representative to Congress since 1987. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he organized numerous protests and marches, including the March on Washington in 1963. In 1965, during the Selma March, state troopers beat Lewis so severely that his skull was fractured. A group of about 50 Berea students and teachers joined the final day of the march.
As a congressman, he has ardently supported renewals of the Voting Rights Act, and supported health care reform and improvements in education. He’s also the author of a series of graphic novels about the Civil Rights Movement, one of which won the National Book Award in 2016, and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Most recently, Lewis took on President Donald Trump, questioning the legitimacy of his election after allegations of Russian interference. Trump attacked Lewis on Twitter, saying he was “all talk — no action or results. Sad!”
On May 21 at 3 p.m., Vance will address the graduates of Centre College at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. Vance grew up in Jackson before his family moved to Ohio, the background for Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, which has spent 36 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Director Ron Howard recently announced he would direct the move version of the book.
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Vance’s career has included being a Marine, a lawyer and a Silicon Valley investment expert. He recently moved back to Columbus, Ohio, to create an organization to fight opioid abuse. A former columnist for the National Review, he is also a political commentator for CNN.