About Our 2017 Speakers.


About Our 2017 Speakers

On May 13, the 2017 Commencement ceremonies kicked off our sesquicentennial celebration through which we will celebrate Drew’s 150 years—first as a seminary and later as an undergraduate college and a graduate school. To mark this anniversary, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II T’03 provided the Sesquicentennial Address and Julia Wolfe gave the Commencement Address. We were delighted to award both of these worthy candidates with honorary degrees on behalf of the Drew University Board of Trustees.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber II T’03, Sesquicentennial Speaker

Photo by Justin Cook

William Barber is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, president of the North Carolina NAACP, convener of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly Coalition and founder of Moral Mondays, a multi-racial, multi-generational movement.

Barber has served as the executive director of North Carolina Human Relations Commission, an adjunct instructor at North Carolina Wesleyan, North Carolina Central University and Duke Divinity School, and on the trustee boards of two colleges. He also served as a Mel King Community Fellow at MIT’s Community Innovators Lab.

He was re-elected to the NAACP National Board in 2011 and appointed as the National NAACP Chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee. Under his leadership, the NAACP developed a new 21st-century voter registration/voter participation system. As president of the North Carolina NAACP, he has led fundraising efforts and led the North Carolina NAACP State Conference to national recognition when he accepted the Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Esq. Award for legal activism. In addition, the NC NAACP became the recipient of the Thalheimer Award for most programmatic NAACP State Conference.

Barber has written three books—Preaching Through Unexpected Pain, Forward Together and The Third Reconstruction—and several articles. He has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, in The New York Times and Crisis Magazine, and has spoken, preached and lectured around the country.

Barber graduated cum laude from North Carolina Central University and received a master of divinity degree from Duke University, where he was a Benjamin Mays Fellow and a Dean Scholar. He has a doctor of ministry degree from Drew University and received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from North Carolina Central University.

Julia Wolfe, Commencement Speaker

Photo by Peter Serling

Julia Wolfe is a 2016 MacArthur Fellow and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in music who served as Drew’s Mellon Artist-in-Residence this year. She draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.

Her Pulitzer-winning concert-length oratorio, Anthracite Fields for chorus and instruments, draws on oral histories, interviews, speeches, and more to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region.

Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. Recent projects include her evening-length Steel Hammer for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and singers, which received its New York premiere at BAM’s 2015 Next Wave festival. Wolfe’s body concerto, riSE and fLY, was commissioned by the BBC and performed last season by the Cincinnati Symphony. The New York Philharmonic recently announced her new evening-length commission for orchestra and women’s chorus that will premiere in the fall of 2018. For the Philharmonic commission, Wolfe continues her interest in American labor history with the subject of women in New York’s garment industry at the turn of the century.

In 2009 Wolfe joined the NYU Steinhardt School composition faculty. Wolfe is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can.

Wolfe received her bachelor of arts degree from the Residential College at the University of Michigan and a master of music degree from the Yale School of Music. She earned her PhD at Princeton University.