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President Valerie Smith's Charge to Anna Deavere Smith


Very few can lay claim to the titles Anna Deavere Smith bears. An actress who has achieved success in film, on television, and on the stage. An author of books and of plays. A professor who has taught drama at several highly respected institutions, including Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and New York University. A MacArthur Fellowship winner. The founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue. A recipient of the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize and of the National Humanities Medal.

But far from being ends in themselves, all of her accomplishments have served a greater purpose. She has committed her life’s work to illuminating the contributions the arts can make to fostering greater understanding among people and to healing our broken world. Her work addresses the intersection of the arts and civic engagement.

Anna’s one-person shows—each of them based on extensive interviews with dozens, if not hundreds, of subjects—have been described as “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.” Her moving portrayals both celebrate our diverse individuality and underscore our shared humanity.

And now, Anna, upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.