2017 Commencement Speakers

May 9, 2017

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

I am pleased to announce that Sherman Alexie and Maggy Barankitse will speak at our undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies, respectively. Both individuals are voices for the marginalized and dispossessed and both are considered friends of our university. It will be wonderful to welcome them back to Seattle University for our commencement at KeyArena on June 11.

Sherman Alexie is an extraordinarily gifted storyteller whose poems, short stories, films and other works portray life on and off Indian reservations. With poignancy and humor, Sherman’s stories bring to the fore the struggles that many Native peoples confront while also conveying a sense of survival, resilience and hope. 

Sherman’s own life has followed a similar narrative. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. As a child, he faced a life-threatening medical condition; later in life, he battled alcohol abuse. In college, he began writing poetry and short fiction and never looked back. His writing and work in film has been prolific and highly acclaimed. Among the many awards and grants he has earned for his work, Sherman has received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, American Book Award and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

We have been blessed to welcome Sherman to our campus several times over the years, including 2000 when he received an honorary doctorate from Seattle University and 2009 when he was a keynote speaker at our inaugural Search for Meaning Book Festival. With Sherman, our university shares a commitment to social justice, and his selection as recipient of an honorary doctorate from SU comes at a time when we are deepening our work with Native peoples.

Maggy Barankitse is also making a return trip to SU. Those who were here in 2008 will remember her as the recipient of the Opus Prize, an honor given to faith-based humanitarians that SU was chosen to administer that year. If you had the opportunity to hear Maggy speak, either at Mission Day for faculty and staff or the public event at Benaroya Hall at which the award was given, you know what a remarkable, dynamic woman she is.

In the fall of 1993, Maggy was working for the Catholic bishop of Ruyigi, in eastern Burundi, when ethnic Tutsis stormed the bishop’s residence and killed more than 70 Hutus. Amidst the brutal slaughter, Maggy managed to save 25 children that day and she took them in as her own. But Maggy felt called by God to do even more and went on to found Maison Shalom as a safe haven for the youngest and most vulnerable survivors of the war. Since then, Maison Shalom has provided a home, education, health care and other services to tens of thousands of children, and Maggy has personally made it a place of healing, love, empowerment and hope.

In addition to the Opus Prize, Maggy has received numerous international awards, including the Nansen Refugee Award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Maggy’s life and work are aligned with the mission of our university and particularly our outreach to the young people of our neighborhood through the Youth Initiative. We will be thrilled to have her back with us in June and look forward to conferring upon her an honorary doctorate.

I am grateful to the faculty and staff who are working to ensure that SU’s 2017 commencement ceremonies are memorable and I know that our distinguished honorary doctorate recipients will undoubtedly make the day all the more special.


Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.