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Sister Helen Prejean Announced as 2014 Commencement Speaker
Sister Helen Prejean, who has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the death penalty, will deliver Elms College’s 83rd commencement address. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 17, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
“We are very pleased to have Sr. Helen as our commencement speaker this year,” said Elms College President Mary Reap, IHM, Ph.D. “Elms College is deeply committed to the causes of social justice, and Sister Helen’s ministry is a great example of that, and one we would encourage our students and graduates to emulate.”
Sr. Helen is no stranger to the Elms campus, having spoken as part of the college’s Social Justice and Liberal Arts series in 2007 on embracing solidarity, one of the seven key themes of Catholic social teaching, as a “Jesus Value.”
Sr. Helen, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, spent her first years with the sisters teaching religion to junior high school students. From 1981 to 1984, while working at Hope House in New Orleans, where she began corresponding with Angola Prison death row inmate Patrick Sonnier and became his spiritual adviser.
After witnessing his execution, she wrote the book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. It became a movie, an opera and a play for high schools and colleges. Since 1984, Sr. Helen has divided her time between educating citizens about the death penalty and counseling death row prisoners and has accompanied six men to their deaths.
Her belief that some of those executed were not guilty inspired her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, published in 2004.
Sr. Helen travels around the world giving talks about her ministry. She is presently at work on another book, River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.
Commencement caps off a full roster of academic events, including Honors Convocation on May 2, where students are inducted into honor societies and receive other awards; a Toast to the Class of 2014 on May 12, a salute to graduates by the Elms community; a number of pinning ceremonies; and the Baccalaureate Mass and Undergraduate Hooding Ceremony on May 16. The Baccalaureate Mass, open to all graduates, their families and friends, is a tradition dating back to medieval times.
For a more complete list of events associated with Commencement 2014, visit: www.elms.edu/about-elms/commencement/index