As anticipation grows for the more than 350 students set to graduate during Wittenberg’s 168th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 12, other distinguished guests will be recognized along with the class of 2018.
Keynote speaker King Letsie III, the Constitutional Monarch of the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho, and Robert Perry, class of 1967, will be presented honorary degrees during the ceremony. Warren Copeland, Wittenberg professor of religion and mayor of Springfield, will be awarded the Wittenberg Medal of Honor.
Because Lesotho holds a special place in the hearts of the Wittenberg students, alumni and the entire campus, King Letsie III was a top choice to present this year’s Commencement address.
Born in 1963, he succeeded his father, Moshoeshoe II, as monarch of his country in 1996. In 2000, he declared HIV/AIDS in Lesotho to be a national disaster, prompting worldwide attention and aid to those in need. In 2014, he was appointed as African Nutrition Champion by the African Union, and in 2016, he was named special ambassador for nutrition by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Since 2003, more than 400 Wittenberg students and community members have participated in a service-learning trip to Lesotho through a program founded by Scott Rosenberg, professor of history, chair of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Prep Program, and Honorary Consul to the Kingdom of Lesotho.
King Letsie III completed his secondary education in the United Kingdom at Ampleforth College. He completed a bachelor’s degree in law at National University of Lesotho in 1984, and thereafter he earned a diploma in English Legal studies at the University of Bristol and took development studies classes and agricultural economics at Cambridge University and the University of London. King Letsie III married Karabo Anna Mots’oeneng, now Queen ‘Masenate, in 2000 in a Roman Catholic ceremony, and together, they have three children.
Perry, who graduated from Wittenberg with a bachelor’s degree in political science, has experienced an illustrious career in foreign relations spanning 34 years, serving as U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.
Born in Durham, N.C., Perry excelled at Hillside High School, the oldest of the 300 black high schools in the state before desegregation. Upon graduating from Wittenberg, he received a Ford Foundation Fellowship for an M.A. from American University in international relations and completed his master’s degree the following year before joining the U.S. Foreign Service in 1968. At the peak of his career, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs in 2001-02. Prior to that, he was U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic (1998-2001).
Finding himself in the center of many historical events including the Cold War and post-Cold War world, Perry served as the deputy chief of mission in Mauritius from 1986-89, as deputy chief of mission in Bolivia from 1995-98, and at U.S. Embassies in Mexico, Ethiopia and Chile throughout his career. After retiring from Foreign Service 15 years ago, he continues to engage the real world serving as vice president in 2003-05 and 2008-16 for the Corporate Council on Africa to promote trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa and as director of the African team for the Stevenson Group. He is currently a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, the American Foreign Service Association, and the Association of Black American Ambassadors. He will receive an honorary degree of doctor humane letters at the ceremony.
Copeland is noted for his scholarship in social ethics. He co-edited an introductory text on social ethics, Issues of Justice, and writes on topics such as cities, welfare, racism, economic policy, and energy. Copeland's research on ethics and economics was reflected in his book Economic Justice: The Social Ethics of U.S. Economic Policy. His study of welfare reform was the subject of his book And the Poor Get Welfare.
In 1995, Copeland received the Distinguished Teaching Award from Wittenberg's Alumni Association and was named to the Wray Chair in the Humanities in 2002. Copeland has designed numerous courses, including The Ethics of Limits: Hunger and Energy, Ethics of Racism, The Ethics of Poverty, The Ethics of Political Economy, and Ethics and Urban Life. In addition to directing the Urban Studies Program, Copeland was the first director of Wittenberg's Common Learning Program. He was appointed in 2008 and reappointed in 2012 to the position of faculty director of the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement.
Also, a community champion, Copeland was appointed to the Springfield City Commission in 1988. He won election in 1989, and reelection in 1993, 1997 and 2001. He served as mayor of Springfield from 1990 to 1994 and again from 1998 to the present. In 2003, he became the first person elected mayor directly by the voters since 1914. He was reelected mayor in 2007 and 2011. His ethical reflections on his time in Springfield city government, Doing Justice in Our Cities: Lessons in Public Policy from America's Heartland, was published in 2009.
Copeland earned his bachelor’s degree from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill. The college named him Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 1983. He earned his M.Div. from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Ind., and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Ill. He joined the Wittenberg faculty in 1977.
For more on Wittenberg’s 2018 Commencement or the university’s service in Lesotho, visit www.wittenberg.edu.