Civil rights pioneer, influential business advocate and former Theological School dean to receive honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

MADISON, NJ—Drew University’s Board of Trustees has approved a recommendation to award an honorary doctor of humane letters degree to the following deserving individuals at the school’s Commencement in May:

Clarence B. Jones is the former personal counsel and a close adviser of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He helped the iconic civil rights leader compose his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and later helped King preserve its copyright.  He is currently the scholar in residence at the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute at Stanford University.  Prior to this, he practiced entertainment law in California and tax law in New York, and worked in investment banking alongside future Citigroup Chairman and CEO Sanford Weill and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt.  He was the first African American to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.  He holds a BA from Columbia University and a LLB from Boston University School of Law.

Joan Verplanck is the immediate past president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, one of the state’s leading business advocacy organizations.  For the past 15 years, she has used that position to lobby for issues of vital importance to the state’s economy—ports and transportation infrastructure, the quality of K-12 education, taxes and regulation, among many others.  Her success in Trenton led the Star-Ledger to name her one of the ten most powerful women in New Jersey business.  Having had to rise through the glass ceiling herself, Verplanck has also been a vocal advocate for women in business.  She used her success to help other women succeed in the corporate world, creating a mentoring network and opportunities for them to serve on boards of directors.  Prior to her tenure at the State Chamber, she served as president of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce where she, in partnership with Drew, created the New Jersey Forum—the precursor to the Drew Forum lecture series.  Verplanck attended Wayne State University in Michigan.

Maxine Clarke Beach served as dean of the Drew Theological School from 2000 to 2010.  During her tenure at the helm the university’s seminary, she successfully incorporated Drew’s existing Graduate Division of Religion and new Center for Christianities in Global Contexts into the framework of the Theological School, and oversaw a drastic expansion and renovation of Seminary Hall.  Prior to joining the Drew community, she served as vice president and chief academic officer at the United Theological Seminary (UTS); executive director of the Scarritt-Bennett Center; and as a professor at UTS, Scarritt-Bennett, Vanderbilt and the University of Massachusetts at Boston.  She has held several positions within the United Methodist Church, including associate general secretary of the General Council on Ministries and director of the Office of Research.  Her published works include two a two-part series on the bible, titled “The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millenia.”  She holds a AA from York College, a BA from Scarritt College, a MA from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD from Boston University.

Also receiving an honorary degree will be Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, who will serve as Drew’s Commencement speaker.

Jackson is currently the 18th president of New York’s Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological university in the United States.  In 1995, she received her first White House appointment when she was called to serve under President Bill Clinton as the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  In 2009, she was called again to serve a U.S. president when Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).  In 2007, the National Science Board called her a “national treasure” and chose her to receive its prestigious Vannevar-Bush Award for a “lifetime of achievements in scientific research, education, and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy.”  She holds a PhD in theoretical elementary particle physics and a SB in physics, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Jones, Verplanck, Beach and Jackson will be honored on May 14 at Drew’s spring Commencement program.  For more information about Commencement 2011, please visit


Posted: February 17, 2011