About Our 2019 Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients.
On Saturday, May 11, we look forward to congratulating the 2019 graduating class on the completion of their degrees in the College of Liberal Arts, the Theological School and the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. Our 151st Drew University Commencement ceremony will feature an impressive speaker—Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and governor of New Jersey—and, as named by Drew’s Board of Trustees, the conferral of honorary degrees to Karen Oliveto C’80, G’91,’02, a bishop in the United Methodist Church, and Dean Criares C’85, the outgoing chair of Drew’s Board of Trustees.
Christine Todd Whitman is the president of The Whitman Strategy Group (WSG), a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues. WSG offers a comprehensive set of solutions to problems facing businesses, organizations and governments; they have been at the forefront of helping leading companies find innovative solutions to environmental challenges.
Governor Whitman served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from January of 2001 until June of 2003. She was the 50th governor of the State of New Jersey, serving as its first woman governor from 1994 until 2001.
As governor, Christie Whitman earned praise from both Republicans and Democrats for her commitment to preserve a record amount of New Jersey land as permanent green space. She was also recognized by the Natural Resources Defense Council as having instituted the most comprehensive beach monitoring system in the nation. As EPA administrator, she promoted common-sense environmental improvements such as watershed-based water protection policies. She championed regulations requiring non-road diesel engines to reduce sulfur emissions by more than 95 percent. During her tenure, the agency was successful in passing and implementing landmark brownfields legislation to promote the redevelopment and reuse of brownfields, previously contaminated industrial sites.
She is the author of a New York Times best seller called It’s My Party Too, which was published in January of 2005 and released in paperback in March 2006.
Governor Whitman serves on the board of directors of United Technologies Corporation, and she formerly served on the Boards of Texas Instruments Inc. and S.C. Johnson and Son, Inc. She is a member of Terrestrial Energy’s International Advisory Board and holds an Executive Masters Professional Director Certification from the American College of Corporate Directors. She is on the advisory boards of the Corporate Eco Forum and The Northeast Maglev (TNEM).
Governor Whitman also serves a number of nonprofit organizations including as chair of the American Security Project and vice chair of the trustees of the Eisenhower Fellowships. She is co-chair of the Commission on the Rule of Law and Democracy at the Brennan Center at New York University and she co-chairs the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council. She serves as an adviser to the Aspen Rodel Fellowship program and on the O’Connor Judicial Selection Advisory Committee at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. She is a member of the Senior Advisory Committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and a member of the National Advisory Committees for the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense and the Presidential Climate Action Project. She is a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council.
In 2018, Governor Whitman was the recipient of the Panetta Institute’s Jefferson-Lincoln Award for her dedication to the key principles of American democracy and the ideals of the nation. She was awarded the Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service in 2017.
Prior to becoming Governor, she was the president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and served on the Somerset County board of Chosen Freeholders.
Governor Whitman holds a BA from Wheaton College in Norton, MA, and was married for 41 years to the late John R. Whitman. She has two children and seven grandchildren.
Karen Oliveto serves as bishop for the United Methodist Church’s Mountain Sky Area, covering all of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and a small portion of Idaho, comprising 400 churches. The two regional conferences that comprise the area, the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Conference, are in the process of creating a new annual conference under the name Mountain Sky. She was elected bishop on July 15, 2016 at the Western Jurisdictional conference and her four year term of service in the Mountain Sky Area began on September 1, 2016. Prior to joining the Mountain Sky Area, she served as the senior pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco for eight years. She was the first woman to be senior pastor at Glide, the fifth largest United Methodist congregation in the United States.
Bishop Oliveto is the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church. On April 28, 2017, the United Methodist Church’s high court ruled that while her lesbian status was in violation of the Church’s policies, she could still retain her position as bishop and the Church’s Western Jurisdiction would handle the matter.
Bishop Oliveto grew up in West Babylon, NY. She attended the Babylon United Methodist Church as a child and had her call to ministry at the age of 11. She began working as a student pastor at the age of 18. She has served parish and campus ministries in rural and urban settings. In 2004, she performed the first legal same-gender marriage held in a United Methodist Church.
She has been married to Robin Ridenour, a nurse anesthetist and deaconess in the United Methodist Church, since 2014. She earned a BA in psychology from Drew in 1980, an MDiv from Pacific School of Religion in 1983, an MPhil in religion and society from the Caspersen School in 1991, and a PhD in religion and society from the Caspersen School in 2002.
Dean Criares graduated from the Drew with a BA in economics and political science in 1985 and earned an MBA from Columbia University in 1994. Mr. Criares is the founder of Sound Harbor Partners, a private credit management firm that was acquired by Allianz Global Investors in 2016. Previously, he was a senior managing director of The Blackstone Group, a leading global investment and advisory firm. Mr. Criares founded Blackstone’s high yield loan management business in 2002, which grew to approximately $15 billion in assets under management at the time. Mr. Criares serves on the Board of Trustees for the USO of Metropolitan New York.
Mr. Criares joined Drew’s Board of Trustees in 2004 and became chair in 2012. On his watch, the University appointed MaryAnn Baenninger as its 13th and first permanent female president, celebrated the Nobel Prize in Medicine earned by longtime science Fellow William Campbell, raised $85.4 million in its One And All campaign, lowered tuition by 20 percent and welcomed the largest first-year class in seven years. He was also instrumental in forging an international education partnership with INTO—resulting in Drew being ranked 15th nationally for the number of international students at baccalaureate colleges—and establishing an NCAA golf program for women and men. And while he is stepping down as chair, he will remain a trustee.